Thursday, May 29, 2014

Send Your Constitutional Change Objections to ARTICLE3@SBC.NET

Last Thursday I called and spoke to a representative of the Executive Committee for the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville. He said that Southern Baptists who are 'opposed' to the new, more narrow definition of 'friendly cooperation' in order to be considered 'Southern Baptist' -- a change that  would require messenger approval to amend the SBC -- should send an email to the Executive Committee at and register their objections to the proposal.


According to this representative (and he should know) a number of people have already done so, and it was his feeling, though he can issue no guarantees, that the Executive Committee would NOT bring the motion with the BFM provision to the floor because of opposition to it.

We'll see.

I would send your email and flood the Executive Committee By-Laws Committee with your concerns. The Convention in Baltimore convenes in less than two weeks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You're No Ding-a-Ling If You Don't Sing

"The very refusal to sing may be itself a song." Spurgeon's Treasury of David
There's an article making its way around the Internet entitled Why They Don't Sing on Sundays Anymore. Author Thom Schultz conjectures that 'not singing' in church is a problem. In fact, the very use of the pronoun 'they,' as in they don't sing anymore, but I do (or should), indicates the belief that something is wrong with the people who don't sing in church.
Thom Schultz is not alone in his opinion that people who don't sing in church have something wrong with them. The old hymn Marching to Zion  attributes true  Christianity to the singer, and consigns the person who doesn't vocalize a tune to judgment:

Come, we that love the Lord.
join in a song with sweet accord...
Let those refuse to sing,
Who never knew our God...
I take a much different approach. It's my belief that there are a multitude of good reasons to not sing during corporate worship, and even more reasons to not make it an "us vs. them" argument between those who love to sing (and do) and those who are not motivated to sing out loud (and don't.).
When Israel was taken captive into Babylon, the Scriptures said, "they hung their harps in the willows"  and refused to sing (Psalm 137:2). Charles Spurgeon, in his Commentary on Psalm 137, quotes another pastor who writes: 
The question "How can we sing?" gives us a striking example of the variety and the versatility of true worship. The very refusal to sing may be itself a song. Any real utterance of good thoughts, whether they be thoughts of gladness or thoughts of sorrow, may be a true hymn, a true melody for the congregation, even though it may not breathe at every moment the very thought of all the worshippers. "How shall we sing?" is itself a permanent hymn, an inspired song, for all the churches.
I can think of at least five good reasons why a Christian might refuse to sing:

(1). When the Christian feels forced or pressured to sing.  The moment a worship leader, pastor, or some other religious officer presses the gathering to sing, with either guilt or shame for not singing, the believer perhaps should refuse to sing. The Babylonians told Israel that they (the leaders) would be delighted to hear joyful songs of mirth from the assembled Israelis. The Israelites flat out refused to sing for anyone but the Lord.

(2). When singing out loud is associated with being Spirit-filled. Many people in the business of vocal performance (choir, worship leaders, etc...) often wrongly give the impression that because they sing, they are 'filled with the Spirit,' and because others don't sing, they are not. However, Ephesians 5:18-19 says something quite different:
"Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the spirit...speaking to one another in psalms and hymns (note: a synonym for psalms) and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord."
 This text says nothing about vocalizing a song with a tune or in harmony. The emphasis on being filled with the Spirit is on what is in your heart, not what comes out your vocal chords. It is quite possible that the person who never opens his mouth during a song is as much filled with the Spirit and 'making melody' as the person who vocalizes the worship, because they both have a melody and  song in their heart. Speaking, by the way, is not the same thing as singing. If someone wishes to imply that something is wrong with you spiritually if you don't sing, then maybe you should take that as an occasion to refuse to sing out loud and continue with a melody in your heart to demonstrate that the true Spirit-filled life is not measured by the vibration of one's vocal chords.

(3). When a Christian realizes he can't sing in tune. The idea that a person who can't sing in tune should sing 'louder' and with more gusto in corporate worship because that "honors God" is ridiculous. Truth is, it's no sin for those of us who can't sing in tune to not sing out loud. It's interesting that the etymology of the word "symphonic" finds its origin in the Greek language. It is used in context with the rejoicing in the home of the prodigal when he returned. The family began to "celebrate" (Luke 15:24) with symphonic sound. No father in his right mind would ever celebrate the return of his son by using a harpist whose strings are out of tune. So the notion you sometimes hear in church, "It's noise that honors God! Even if you can't carry a tune, sing with gusto!" is foreign to logic, biblical worship, and public etiquette. It is much better for many of us to 'make melody in our hearts' because it's impossible to make melody with our mouths.

(4). When the heart is moved by a song sung or words spoken by others. Sometimes the best time to not sing is when the heart is being moved by the words of a song or a message through the vocalization of another. To sing out loud at that moment would detract from the symphony being played in your own heart. There's no sin in being moved within by the vocal performance of another! Truth be known, a Christian man or woman could worship God at the local symphony, or at a ballet, or at a rock concert because he or she is overcome by the goodness and grace of God in a phrase used, a song sung, or the Spirit moving internally as life is lived at the moment! The notion that there is something 'sacred' about church and everything else is 'not sacred' is foreign to the teaching of the New Covenant. Hearts can be moved anywhere and at anytime, and if you are singing and making melody in your heart--even at a corporate worship service led by a choir, band, or vocal worship leader-- one doesn't have to sing out loud to honor God.  

(5). When your circumstances are such you don't feel like singing.  Sometimes, as Spurgeon points out, the refusal to sing becomes a song itself. When Israel was in captivity, they felt sorrow and sadness, and refused to sing songs of mirth. When a best friend or a loved one dies, and you enter into a corporate worship on Sunday morning, you may not feel like singing "Oh Happy Day!" You are more real, more God-honoring, and more legit as a Christian by refusing to sing out loud under those circumstances. You don't know what is going on in the heart of the person seated next to you. If they are not singing, it could be within the heart God is giving them another song, another message, another moment of healing for the soul.

So.... it would be far better for faithful followers of Jesus Christ to refrain from making judgments on others by whether or not they sing in church on Sunday and remember that you are no spiritual ding-a-ling if you don't sing. (Update: One reader sent me a link proving some who sing shouldn't). :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tullian Tchividjian, the GOSPEL Standard, the Sanctification Controversy and What It All Means

It seems there's been a pretty nasty spat between certain leaders of the Gospel Coalition and Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian is both the grandson of Billy Graham and the well-known pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Gospel Coalition has accused Tullian of 'heresy' due to his belief that the "the Law of God" is of no use to Christians in terms of their progressive holiness  (i.e. 'sanctification') and they have removed Tullian from their organization. The Gospel Coalition, in my opinion, has just made a huge mistake. The mistake is not only that they removed Tullian; it's that they seem not to realize this 'sanctification debate' is centuries old and previous Law-oriented men who 'booted' grace men from fellowship found their their organizations died a slow death.

Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced tul-ee-un cha-vi-jin) believes that the Law was never to be the motivation or standard for change in a Christian's life. Tullian teaches that God's Law was designed by God to reveal humankind's defects and to shine a bright spotlight on the beautiful character and work of Jesus Christ. Most importantly, the Law (like the old Greek schoolmaster) leads people to the Teacher (Jesus Christ) where they hear the ultimate good news that God loves defective people and gave His Son to make them completely holy in Him.  Author Brennan Manning,  who died last year, held to the same beliefs of Tullian. Brennan wrote a powerful book he called The Ragamuffin Gospel, where he describes in layman's terms the power of understanding this grace principle.

However, Gospel Coalition leaders believe Tullian is an 'antinomian' (i.e. 'a lawless person'). They have unsuccessfully sought to 'correct' Tullian (as if they are on God's side). After 'great sorrow,' the Gospel Coalition has removed Tullian from their organization. They have called their disagreement with Tullian "the sanctification controversy."

Though I'm tinged with sadness that such a wonderful gospel preacher as Tullian is deemed 'unfit' for the Gospel Coalition, I am touched by the humor that certain Gospel Coalition preachers act as if this sanctification controversy is 'recent.' Disagreement over the use of the Law of God is as old as the New Testament. Further, three hundred years ago, pastors in England and Europe nearly came to physical blows over this exact same disagreement. Some 18th century evangelical pastors wound up publicly calling opponents "Pharisees,' or 'bastards,' or sometimes even worse expletives. It makes the modern controversy between the Gospel Coalition and Tullian look like a Sunday School picnic.

The Issues at Stake

For the record I land squarely on the side of Tullian in this debate. In fact, I don't believe you are really preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ until someone calls you an antinomian. The Apostle Paul himself was accused of being 'lawless' (see Romans 6:1). What' s interesting is that when he defended himself against the charge, he gave more good news in Christ and never even mentioned the Law. Most Christians today, contrary to Paul, would mention the 'balance' between Law and grace. "We Christians must strike the right balance between law and grace to prevent us from falling into either the trap of legalism or the trap of license," they might say.

Nope, says the Apostle. No balance at all is needed. It's the gospel; it's good news. That's what we need, and we need more of it! We are broadcasters (and hearers) of good news. We don't make the good news; we marvel at it. We don't become the good news; we are blessed by it. We who've come to Christ and have been found 'in Him,' will go through dark spells of discouragement and disobedience where we question if we are His children. Invariably, well-meaning people will try to help us with an emphasis on law, or on our promises to reform, or others 'helps' associated with our self-efforts. But  what we need more of is the good news of Jesus Christ when we are struggling.

The good news of Jesus Christ both justifies and sanctifies. The moment that we begin to believe our obedience to Law, that our efforts and striving to conform to Law, somehow makes us more holy, the further we move away from the gospel. Jesus Christ makes us completely holy by His work, not ours. Justification is the declaration of righteousness by God for sinners through His grace in Christ. Sanctification is the application of that justification in the life of the sinner by the work of the Holy Spirit. The sinner is transformed by beholding the glorious grace and beauty of God in loving and saving sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 3:18).  Note how in this II Cor. 3:18 verse, the transformation of the believer comes from 'beholding Christ,' not by striving hard to obey or promising to do so.

Lest you think this is just some kind of preacher talk, ask yourself these questions:

(1). Is God 'angry' with the Christian when he or she sins?
(2). Does the pleasure of God abide upon His people because of their spiritual performance?
(3). Does God 'see' sin in His people in terms of His judicial wrath and 'punishment'?
(4). When does the believer enter into 'union with Christ' from God's perspective?
(5). What is the evangelical motivation for doing good works?

I could go on, but the truth is, how you answer each of these questions--and dozens more--will determine which side of the sanctification 'debate' you take. Let me illustrate this from history.

Men of Grace from the 18th Century

Rather than go into specific details and anecdotes of a similar debate between evangelical ministers three hundred years ago (the 1700's), I recommend you read this excellent on-line summary of the conflict. If you don't have the time, I can tell you that the arguments back then were much the same as they are today.

In closing this post, I would like to show you who it was in the 1700's that held to the same positions on Law and grace that Tullian Tchividjian does (as well as I and thousands of others).

(1). William Gadsby (1733-1844) - Gadsby so opposed the use of "the Law" for the sanctification of God's people that he started a magazine, along with his son John Gadsby, to help Christians understand that the GOSPEL is their STANDARD of living (it's called The Gospel Standard Magazine).  My Christian life has been thoroughly enriched from reading William Gadsby's magazine articles, and by memorizing some of the extraordinary Gadsby Hymns, a collection of wonderful songs saturated with the good news of God's grace and love in Jesus Christ. Gadsby understood, as do I, that we will only love other people more when we more fully comprehend God's love for us; we will only forgive others more easily when we comprehend more fully God's forgiveness of us, etc...

By the time of his death, William Gadsby had planted nearly forty churches. He was once called "a preacher made on purpose for the working classes.” Gadsby loved to speak of Christians as "them that are sanctified" (notice the past tense). Without a doubt, Gadsby knew every Christian would enter valley times when doubts about their true spiritual condition would occur, but the solution to such dilemmas is found in one of Gadsby's Hymns, Number 283

         Breathing after Love to Christ 

         1    ’Tis a point I long to know,
            (Oft it causes anxious thought),
            Do I love the Lord, or no?
            Am I his, or am I not?

        2    If I love, why am I thus?
            Why this dull and lifeless frame?
            Hardly, sure, can they be worse
            Who have never heard his name.

        3    Could my heart so hard remain,
            Prayer a task and burden prove,
            Every trifle give me pain,
            If I knew a Saviour’s love?

        4    [When I turn my eyes within,
            All is dark, and vain, and wild;
            Filled with unbelief and sin,
            Can I deem myself a child?

        5    If I pray, or hear, or read,
            Sin is mixed with all I do;
            You that love the Lord indeed,
            Tell me, is it thus with you?

        6    Yet I mourn my stubborn will
            Find my sin a grief and thrall;
            Should I grieve for what I feel,
            If I did not love at all?]

        7    Could I joy his saints to meet,
            Choose the ways I once abhorred,
            Find at times the promise sweet,
            If I did not love the Lord?

        8    Lord, decide the doubtful case;
            Thou who art thy people’s Sun,
            Shine upon thy work of grace,
            If it be indeed begun.

        9    Let me love thee more and more,
            If I love at all, I pray;
            If I have not loved before,
            Help me to begin today.

(2). Robert Robinson (1735-1790) author of the great hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."  Robert Robinson had little use for any Christian whose theology led him to be 'intolerant' or 'unloving.' He believed that the grace of God in Christ should teach all men everywhere to "love one another even as Christ loves us" and to be gracious toward all those in error, whether it be behavior or belief. That doesn't mean one does not turn over criminals, abusers or molesters to civil authorities. Quite the contrary, the most loving thing one can do criminals is to turn the 'lawbreakers' over to civil authorities. In the spiritual realm, however, one always move toward believers in Christ caught up in sin with an emphasis on the grace of God in Christ for sinners. In Law oriented churches, Christians desire synods, juries, and judgments against fellow Christians, extracting promises from the sinner that he or she will perform better in the future. Robert Robinson believed that only reminders of the grace and blessings of God in Christ  will truly change people. Listen to his fourth stanza in the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

4. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

(3). William Huntington (1745-1813) is the man who preached to the Queen of England as well as the Prime Minister, and signed his letters William Huntington, S.S. (Saved Sinner). My dear friend Dr. George Ella wrote the definitive biography on the life of Huntington while recuperating in the hospital from a severe head injury. Dr. Ella was a linguist who spoke over two dozen languages, but after his head injury, he could only speak English. He wrote Huntington: Pastor of Providence as a form of rehabilitation, but Ella's book had a profound impact on my life when I read it. I finished it in one sitting, picked up the phone and tracked down George Ella, and from that day until this, I have had not only a friendship with George Ella, but a deep love for Huntington.

William Huntington taught that the moral law was binding on the nonbeliever, but was not a rule of life for the Christian. He put it like this:
"The unbeliever is under the law to Christ. The believer is under grace to Christ”
Huntington believed in a sanctification that comes from the mental and thought life, which ultimately transforms the way a person lives (i.e. 'proper belief leads to appropriate behavior'). Huntington taught that sanctification was the guarantee of God’s promise and this gracious promise was the cause of a believer’s obedience, for as the believer realized the faithfulness of God to do what He says He will do in Christ, the believer is transformed.. Sanctification, he wrote, “Is willed and determined by the secret counsel of God; and as it is written,“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). Huntington denied what was commonly called 'progressive' sanctification, preferring instead to always speak of 'complete sanctification' in Christ, but a 'growth in grace and the knowledge thereof' whereby Christians enter into a deeper understanding of what Christ has accomplished for His people. It's like being the child of a King and being told: "Go out, son, and live like who you are!" Ella describes Huntington's views on the Law of God for the believer on page 160 of Huntington: Pastor of Providence:
"For Huntington the only rule of conduct for a Christian is the whole will of God centered in Christ... we must talk of God's everlasting love, blessed redemption, all-conquering grace, mysterious providence, the Spirit's work in our souls and a whole host of other good news themes."
(4). John Gill (1697-1791) the greatest theologian, Hebrew linguist, and biblical commentator Baptists in England have every produced. He was called "Dr. Voluminous" because of his prolific writings. Gill pastored in London for over fifty years (1720-1771), and mostly through his influence, saw a return to orthodox Christianity throughout the city after a season of deism had infiltrated the churches. William Cathcart, the great church historian, said of Gill: "It is within bounds to say that no man in the eighteenth century was so well versed in the literature and customs of the ancient Jews as John Gill.” Augustus Toplady, a contemporary and friend of John Gill as well as the author of the  hymn Rock of Ages, called Gill "the greatest defender of the doctrines of grace since Augustine."
Gill the first person in the history of Christianity to write a verse-by-verse commentary of the entire Bible from the original languages before he ever wrote a systematic theology. Yet, in my estimation, the greatest book ever written by John Gill was actually a lengthy letter that was later published and entitled God's Everlasting Love to His Elect. In it, Gill writes:
"Though God sees sin in his people (in terms of his omniscience) yet He sees no sin in them (in terms of His justice), as they are perfectly justified. In other words, though He sees sin in His people with his eye of omniscience, yet He sees no sin in them with His eye of revenging justice; though He sees in respect of His providence, which reaches all things, yet He sees not sin in His people in respect of justification; though He takes notice of His people's sins so as to chastise them in a fatherly way, for their good; yet He does not see them, take notice of them, and observe them in a judicial way, so as to impute them to them, or require satisfaction for them: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:9): No, He has imputed them to Christ, He has beheld them in him, He has charged them to him, and Christ has made full satisfaction for them; and therefore who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth: Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died (Rom. 8:33, 34). God will not require satisfaction at the hands of His people for their sins; He will not punish them on the account of them; they shall never enter into condemnation; for there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1). Was God to see sin in His people in this sense, and proceed against them in a forensic way, He must act contrary to His justice and set aside the satisfaction of His Son."
(5). J.C. Philpot (1802-1869) the Oxford educated pastor who became known as “The Seceder' because he resigned from the Church of England in 1835 and became a Baptist pastor. While with the Church of England he was a Fellow of Worchester College, Oxford. After becoming a 'grace man' in the Baptist tradition, he also became the editor of the Gospel Standard. Like other 'grace men' in his day, Philpot believed the law could be used to convict sinners, but it was an entirely inadequate standard for Christian obedience, for it lacked all the spirit and soul of grace and truth. J.C. Philpot wrote of his goal in ministry:
"My desire is to exalt the grace of God; to proclaim salvation alone through Jesus Christ; to declare the sinfulness, helplessness and hopelessness of man in a state of nature; to describe the living experience of the children of God in their trials, temptations, sorrows, consolations and blessings."   - J. C. Philpot
One of the things you will find with all grace men in the 18th century and in the 21st century is the belief that acknowledging failure is a virtue in the Christian life. It is only through failure and sin that the beauty and grace of Jesus Christ is really felt.

Philpot understood, and communicates in his writings, that law oriented churches and people cover. They hide. Law oriented churches, pastors and people so heavily concentrate on 'striving to allegedly rid themselves of sin,' that they are either driven to pride because they think they have succeeded, or they are driven to hiding because they can't let others know they have not actually succeeded in dying to sin.

Grace oriented people who love the gospel understand that grace is only for sinners. Therefore, transparency, honesty and openness are irreplaceable virtues in the kingdom of God. It is only when a sinner feels, acknowledges and owns his (or her) sin, that the good news of Jesus Christ and all the promises that are "yes" in Him come to life! And yet, the more sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!


I have never met Tullian Tchividjian. One of these days I hope to be able to fellowship with him. I know some of the Gospel Coalition men by reputation and am friends on Facebook with a few of them. I do hope that they understand by kicking Tullian out of their fellowship they have gone down the same path some Law-oriented evangelicals went in the 1700's when they booted from fellowship some amazing 'grace' men (see above). The 'downgrade' of the gospel began occurring about that very same time in those Law-oriented churches in England and Europe.

It is only God's grace in Christ, the truly good news, that safeguards the church.

Tullian, you are definitely welcome in my ekklesia in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wake Up, Southern Baptists! Baltimore's Coming

"Is it not sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy
for the person over whom some fear always looms?" Cicero

The admission of an observant Muslim at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is filled with irony. We are told that the Muslim was admitted into the cooperative educational efforts of Southern Baptists, according to the President of SWBTS, because he 'accepted our  school's moral code' (no smoking, no drinking, etc...). Some SWBTS students suggested that I post photos of the Muslim young man smoking on campus ("close to a pack a day"), then hopping on his bike to go work at his on-campus landscaping job. Not a good idea, in my opinion. That would make this entire fiasco about our Muslim friend. This story, contrary to the puerile thinking of many Southern Baptists, not to mention the secular media, is not about the Muslim student. So what if he smokes? So what if he's a practicing Muslim? So what if he's getting his Ph.D. in archaeology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary? The issue at hand is Southern Baptists as a whole are allowing people in power within the Convention to play fast and furious with our cooperation in education and missions, arbitrarily determining who is 'in' and who is 'out' by a set of rules that keeps changing. Let me explain.
I pray our Muslim friend comes to know Christ, and when he does, I'll send him a congratulatory cigar, a cigar from the same stock that B.H. Carroll,  the founding President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1908), used to smoke for pleasure. B.H. Carroll, the divorced and remarried first President of SWBTS, was a wonderful theologian and leader of pastors, a devout follower of Jesus Christ, and one of the leading Southern Baptists in the history of our Convention. George W. Truett, longtime pastor of FBC Dallas, called Carroll's crowning work  the education of "God's preachers." Yet, in the SBC's bizarre world of modern day neo-fundamentalism, the fingers of B.H. Carroll's left hand have been cut off from the portrait that hangs in the rotunda of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in order to hide the omnipresent cigar in President Carroll's hand. I plan, when our Muslim friend graduates from Southwestern Theological Seminary, to take a snapshot with him underneath B.H. Carroll's portrait. Who knows? What might lead our Muslim friend to faith in Jesus Christ is an understanding that moral codes save no one, but a faith relationship in the Person and work of the Anointed One saves any one.
Here's my question. Who changed 'the rules' at Southwestern? On whose watch did this occur? Who made acceptance of a new "moral code" (new in the sense that B.H. Carroll knew nothing about it) more important for enrollment in the seminary than the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Who is in charge? Who are the spiritual elitists? In short, who determines what is 'appropriate and not appropriate" in terms of belief and behavior for participation and cooperation in Southern Baptist missions and education?
I'd like to address you Southern Baptists who read this blog. Thousands upon thousands of you have read it the last few days. If you are more concerned about a Muslim attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary than you are the SBC Executive Committee's recommendation at the 2014 SBC in Baltimore which, if approved, will more narrowly define  churches in "friendly cooperation" with the Southern Baptist Convention as only those churches who do not operate in a manner which demonstrates opposition to the BFM 2000, then you don't get the problem that I've been writing about.
The major problem we have in the Southern Baptist Convention is not that we are gracious to Muslims (for we should be and we are); rather, the problem we have in the Southern Baptist Convention is that we are NOT gracious and kind to professing Christians who disagree with our views on tertiary matters (and we should be). We keep changing the rules to narrow the parameters of who can be called a 'real' Baptist.
If you allow the SBC Executive Committee's constitutional recommendation to pass at the 2014 Baltimore Convention, here will be a few of the consequences:
 (1). Churches who practice "open" communion cannot be called Southern Baptist, for the BFM 2000 teaches closed communion, and those churches that practice "open" communion churches (as we do) will be defined as not "in friendly cooperation."
(2). Churches who believe and teach 'original sin' and that people are judged by God for Adam's sin (as our church holds) will not be "in friendly cooperation" with the Southern Baptist Convention, because the BFM 2000 teaches that nobody comes under the condemnation of Adam's sin until  "they are capable of moral action, for only then do they become transgressors and come under condemnation."
(3). Churches that teach and believe that Jesus Christ baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit (as we believe the Scriptures teach) would not be "in friendly cooperation" with the Southern Baptist Convention because the BFM wrongly teaches that "the Holy Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ."
I could go on. The BFM 2000 is a good confession, but it is an errant confession. No confession is perfect, and no Baptist in history should ever advocate the use of creeds. The motion by the Executive Committee to more narrowly define "in friendly cooperation" should cause concern in the heart of every true Southern Baptist - huge concern. The Executive Committee, in its official 'recommendation' to change Article III of the SBC Constitution does not tell you how the new constitutional amendment will affect churches who "operate in a manner which demonstrates opposition to the BFM 2000," but if you think it won't one day include the attempted banishment of churches who hold to what is commonly called Calvinism, then you need to go get your picture taken close to BH Carroll's left hand at SWBTS. The Executive Committee gives only one example of opposition to the BFM 2000;  the acceptance of "homosexuality."   Well of course. That's the only illustration needed to get a chorus of "Amens!" Yet, the issues involved are much deeper. More and more Baptist churches, who otherwise would be in friendly cooperation,  are being squeezed out of participation within the Southern Baptist Convention. I've been warning about this for years. For those of you with difficulty understanding the importance of this matter, which will be definitely decided in Baltimore, let me make it pretty simple by using an analogy.
You, sir, are the Muslim at Southwestern. You were told that you would be 'accepted' at the Southern Baptist Convention by the very guy who figured he had been given the power to "write the rules," "change the rules" and "enforce the rules." All of the sudden, you wake up one morning and realize that some crazy Southern Baptist in Oklahoma wrote about you and now YOU ARE THE ISSUE. It's uncomfortable. You don't like it - but don't worry, people will jump to your defense to protect you from being hurt, claiming that the President has good intentions for you. You never realized the writer in Oklahoma never thought you were the issue in the first place.
Cooperating conventions like the Southern Baptist Convention work because people collectively refuse to random leaders to narrow the rules in place, or power brokers to selectively enforce those rules, or people in positions of power without convention approval to change the rules (think the IMB new guidelines for missionaries never approved by the Convention). If our cooperation were determined by our beliefs and behavior conformities, our educational and missional funding mechanism should be called the Conformity Program. This, my Southern Baptist friends, is the greatest issue in Baltimore.
It just took a Muslim to show us that modern Southern Baptists express more concern for not offending a professing Muslim allowed to enroll in the educational program of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, contrary to policies and procedures already in place, than we Southern Baptists ever do over professing Christians who are already involved in Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministry but are now being de-enrolled through a narrowing of the parameters of our cooperation.
Wake up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When Power Is Absolute: What Can't He Do?

SWBTS Chapel Window
When President Paige Patterson ordered the admissions office of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth to allow a practicing Muslim to enroll in the School of Theology, enabling him to pursue a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with an emphasis in archaeology, Dr. Patterson violated the SWBT's written requirements regarding admissions. Christianity Today points out that Southwestern's stated policies and procedures require the prospective student   (1). to possess mature Christian character, (2). give evidence of a desire for Christian ministry (shown through the application process), (3). have a record of active church service, (4). display a record of academic achievement, (5). and promise continued intellectual and spiritual growth.

Southwestern Theological Seminary's board of trustees had no knowledge of Dr. Patterson's decision to violate the school's charter. The seminary's trustees were informed of Dr. Patterson's decision through a letter the President sent to them on Friday, May 16, 2014, just a few hours after the story posted.

Late this afternoon, the chairman of the trustees for Southwestern Seminary, Steven James, issued the following public statement.
"The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee executive committee has a meeting scheduled in September and will discuss this issue and will deal with it accordingly at that time. That is the role and responsibility of the trustees... (F)rom the executive committee meeting in September we will make any adjustments that need to be made. If it needs to come to the full board, it will come to the full board."
Chairman Steven James is to be commended. He understands the issues. The problem is not the nice Muslim young man. The problem is not that Baptists and Muslims refuse to get along. The problem is definitely not that we Baptists don't like Muslims. No, not at all. I can't speak for everyone, but I have some very close Muslim friends and have shared many meals and conferences with them and will do so in the future. The problem is not even that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary can't educate a Muslim side-by-side with evangelical Christians.

No. The problem is one of integrity. It is an issue of power and control and 'who answers to whom.' It's a matter of holding in check the power of a President.

The stained glass windows at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary multi-million dollar chapel "immortalize Baptists who helped effect the culture change to more conservative attitudes in the Southern Baptist Convention," as Paige Patterson described them to the Forth Worth Star Telegram in December of 2013. The 69 stained glass windows at Southwestern's chapel include images of Paige Patterson and his wife Dorothy.

Before we Southern Baptists criticize our Roman Catholic friends again, we should remember we have a tendency to canonize saints faster than the they do. It's never smart to make your heroes iconic and place them in stained glass before they are dead. All of us have clay feet.

Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) once wrote, "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Few realize that Lord Acton made this statement in an attempt to defeat the doctrine of Roman Catholic papal infallibility.

Southern Baptists don't have a pope. But for a number of years, Paige Patterson has been given impunity for his actions. It was Paige Patterson, who with the help of David Allen,  orchestrated the removal of Dr. Kenneth Hemphill (my source: David Allen's office personnel at the time). After Paige Patterson was hired as President, he made David Allen dean of the School of Theology. When Dr. Patterson fired Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda, this blog came to Sheri's defense. When Dr. Patterson removed John Cornish for his wife's previous divorce, this blog came to Dr. Cornish's defense. The story behind Dr. Craig Mitchell's removal is still yet to fully unfold. On at least one occasion, I have been able to stop Dr. Patterson from removing those he desired gone. The opposition to Dr. Patterson has never been against him as a person. I've had a very enjoyable private meal with Paige and Dorothy in their Presidential home at SWBTS.

No matter what people say, I have no problem with Dr. Patterson as a person. I find him a very likeable fellow. The concern I have, and the concern every Southern Baptist should also have, is the possibility of unchecked power by anybody in a position of authority and influence within the Southern Baptist Convention, regardless of their previous involvement in the Conservative Resurgence. The question to be asked when considering whether or not too much power has been granted to any one man is a simple one: "What can't he do?"

It sounds like I heard the chairman of the Southwestern Seminary trustees say today, "Paige Patterson can't violate the policies and procedures for admissions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary."

Maybe, just maybe, we finally have a trustee board at SWBTS who understands that they are the real boss.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Underlying Problems with Educating Observant Muslims and Mormons at SWBTS

Since I posted last Friday about the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary changing the admission requirements to exclude faith in Jesus Christ in order to receive a Ph.D. from the School of Theology, many people have opined about my motive in writing. Some who've read what I've written seek to dismiss it by calling it a 'personal attack.' Ironically, people who ignore what is being done wrong at SWBTS (i.e. "a violation of a principle") for the sake of loyalty to the person who is doing the wrong, are the ones making it 'personal.' I am not. In fact, I didn't even wish to write it when first contacted. Below is a private email I sent several days ago to those who contacted me requesting my help on the problems at SWBTS. These people are too fearful to speak up or to speak out on their own. Pay attention to what I tell them about my desires (two weeks before I posted last Friday).

Dear ______________,
I appreciate your emails. I've read through them, and I can definitely tell you all are inside 'sources.'
I probably need to clarify something for you. I never have had (in my previous writings on SWBTS) an intention to remove Paige Patterson from SWBTS. I write on issues, and if any problems arise at SWBTS or come Dr. Patterson's way because of them, they are the results of his own doing, not my writing.
For that reason, I am going to prayerfully consider whether to be involved with writing about SWBTS again. Honestly, there are two things that cause me to lean toward not writing to expose what Dr. Patterson is doing regarding admitting professing non-believers (i.e. Muslims and Mormons) into the School of Theology.
(1). I've lost most of my former interest. I'm way too different from traditional, modern SBC'ers who focus more on religion and tradition than Christ and the kingdom.
(2). I'm very, very busy and am not sure the 'time' I can devote to such a writing project.
(3). I must find a 'principle' which 'lights my fire,' for I have no desire to write against a person.
So, let me think through some things, and if I feel like writing about SWBTS or Patterson.
Wade Burleson 
Last week two things convinced me to write. First, I found out that the Director for the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement had been released from his duties by Paige Patterson. This is a pattern I've seen over the years. I've written about Sheri Klouda. I've written about John Cornish. In fact, I wrote a book about tactics Patterson used to get rid of Jerry Rankin. I'm not unfamiliar with moralistic fundamentalism that has more in common with Mormons and Muslims than historic Christianity, which uses people (or gets rid of people) for personal gain or the advancement of friends (watch carefully who takes over the RLC). Those words may seem harsh, but when multiple people who used to work at SWBTS (and some who still do) continue to write me with their horror stories, and ask me to write because 'its time to remove Paige Patterson,' then something is wrong. As the old saying goes, "Where's there's smoke, there's fire." I discovered a long time ago that people with careers in the SBC are too afraid to speak up or to speak out. I don't care what people think of me in the Southern Baptist Convention because I have no personal goals in the SBC. I just don't like those who bully other people in the name of God.

Second, last week I began to hear from many more people who had deep concerns about the presence of Muslims and Mormons on the campus of SWBTS. I only wrote specifically about one Muslim to draw out an admission of its truth, but if necessary, I will write details about more people later. I would much prefer to keep the issues about principle, but in my experience, most people respond to stories, not principles.

Nevertheless, I will write this post on principle, not people, and seek to point out the main problems with people who deny faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior being allowed to enter the theological training ground of the SBC.

(1). The secrecy and lack of transparency is a problem.

When the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary takes great pains to make sure that Southern Baptists as a whole do not know what is being done, then something is not right. Transparency should be the number one character trait of men (and women?) in leadership in the SBC. Stand up and tell the Southern Baptist Convention, "I will be changing the admission requirements at SWBTS so that it will no longer be a requirement that prospective students at SWBTS profess personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They must only accept 'our moral code.' They must promise their faithfulness to never drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, swear, etc....." If you can't tell the people the truth, then maybe you ought not be doing what you are doing. We Southern Baptists want and need transparency from our leaders. If some argue that 'exceptions' to the policy are not that big of a deal and the President should be allowed exceptions without reporting to the SBC, then I would say the following....

(2). The giving of a Presidential Scholarship to a non-believer is a problem.

It has been argued by some that the Muslims and Mormons "are paying full tuition." Really? What about the Muslim of whom I wrote. Is he the recipient of the Presidential Scholarship? No, you say? Prove it. What? What do you mean you can't? The recipients of the Presidential Scholarships at SWBTS are "secret" and known only to administration? Hmmm. Like I said, Transparency is a problem. When you give a Presidential Scholarship to a non-believer, you are withholding a Presidential Scholarship from a Southern Baptist. When people know the truth, they aren't real happy, are they? That's why we must keep things locked up tight. Don't make the reporters ask how the student is getting his tuition paid.

(3). The giving of a campus job to a non-believer is a problem.

"Listen, Wade, lighten up! Paige Patterson is trying to lead this Muslim to Christ! You are not showing him the love of Christ!" I don't need a lecture on loving Muslims. I am friends with the leaders of the largest Muslim organization in the nation. They ask me to speak at their gatherings. I lead in prayer at their banquets. I eat dinner with them, and they with me. They've asked me to go to Turkey with them. Muslims are my friends. This isn't about the Muslim on the campus of SWBTS. This is about the secret and intentional violation of a policy by the President of SWBTS. Most Southern Baptists would not appreciate that a landscaping job on campus, usually reserved for dads who are attempting to get their degree and have to support their families while doing so, has been given to this Muslim, excluding help that would otherwise be given to a Southern Baptist training for gospel ministry.

(4). Using the seminary as an evangelism center for non-believers is a problem.

All of us want to see our Muslim and Mormon friends come to faith in Christ for their salvation and deliverance. The place for evangelism to take place is not the seminaries Southern Baptists have set aside to train gospel ministers and missionaries. We are far more effective fulfilling the polices of the Southern Baptist Convention and the charters and policies of our seminaries by training Christians for gospel ministry and then sending them to places where Muslims are, than we are by violating policies and bringing Muslims and Mormons to where our gospel ministers and missionaries are being trained.

(5). Ignoring the violation of policies for the sake of the non-believer is a problem.

To defend Dr. Paige Patterson and the admissions office of SWBTS for allowing Muslims and Mormons and other non-believers to enroll at SWBTS, an act which intentionally (and until the post Friday secretly) violates the written policies and the will of the SBC,  emphasizing that what is more important is "the salvation of the Muslim man who is watching how we deal with this issue," is for Southern Baptists to ignore the real issue. We have all heard the phrase "the ends justifies the means," right? Well, admitting professing non-believers in Jesus Christ to SWBTS violates the mission statement of SWBTS and the policies of the SBC. If, in the end, the Muslim comes to faith in Christ because he is at SWBTS getting his degree, you can't justify the violation of the school's charter (the means) for the salvation of a Muslim man (the end). That would be like saying, "I'm going to break my marriage vows because I believe I can win this good looking girl I work with to Christ if I'm more intimate with her." It doesn't work that way.

If it is important to get Muslims and Mormons on campus at SWBTS in order to 'evangelize them' during the time they are getting degrees from the School of Theology, then get the Southern Baptist Convention to change the charter of seminaries to reflect 'evangelism of non-believing seminary students' as a stated purpose for seminary training in addition to "the training for gospel ministry of Christian students."

It's not a current stated policy of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I think there's good reasons why it never should be - but that's another matter.

More to come...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Morality, Mormon, Muslim Mess at SWBTS

Yesterday I wrote a post about Dr. Paige Patterson clearing the way for Muslims to enroll in the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the termination of the Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at SWBTS, postulating that the wrong person might have been released from his duties last week. I was specific in my post with information about the Muslim Ph.D. student obtaining his degree at SWBTS, knowing from previous experiences that there would be official denials from administration,  and the only way to prevent this was to be as specific as possible. The written response to my post has been voluminous, with many people from around the country writing me about some of their own recent experiences at SWBTS. Most assume, wrongly, that they are telling me something I don't already know.

For example, a commenter asked this question:
"I am glad that someone has finally picked up on this. However, you neglected to mention the two Mormon students who are also on campus: one at the master's level and one at the PhD level, both in archaeology as well. Shouldn't the Board of Trustees also be addressing that issue as well?"
I've been told by several people in the last few months that Southwestern is becoming a training ground for Muslims and Mormons, but I only posted the specific details of one man to draw an admission from SWBTS administration, rather than denials. Sure enough, late yesterday Dr. Patterson admitted that there it has been his practice to admit non-believers, and in giving his reasoning for why he allows people who deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior into SWBTS, Patterson says something quite startling about the observant Muslim of whom I wrote yesterday:

    "He accepted the necessity of abiding by our moral code of conduct."

Patterson's statement above makes me feel like Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has officially entered the Twilight Zone. Seriously.

The President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary---in direct violation of the School of
Theology's Mission Statement, not to mention the stated will of the Southern Baptist Convention, which both clearly mandate that SBC seminaries should prepare "God-called Christian men and women" for gospel service around the world---has now changed by his personal fiat the qualifications for admittance into Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Think about this. According to President Patterson, one no longer has to accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior to be a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but one must accept "our moral code of conduct."

In other words, Paige Patterson deems it more important for prospective students of Southwestern to agree to avoid the "use and possession of alcohol and tobacco" than to affirm their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Some might say, "No, no, no - that's not true!! Dr. Patterson WANTS those Muslims and Mormons who come to Southwestern to come to faith in Jesus Christ WHILE they are in seminary."

Well, for heaven's sake, if that's the case, then why in the name of God-given common sense would you not allow professing believers in Jesus Christ who smoke a little and drink a little to enter the seminary and convince them of the importance of total abstinence WHILE they are in seminary?

I'll tell you why. In the strange mindset that has overtaken Southwestern Seminary, the acceptance of a uniform moral code governing the student body is more important than the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world. That's why Mormons and Muslims are now accepted at SWBTS. They don't drink. They don't smoke. They are moral people.

Forget what they think about Jesus! We will give them degrees at our Southern Baptist seminary, a school funded by the Cooperative Program, as long as those Mormons and Muslims who attend promise not to smoke and drink.

Good heavens. I am not done writing about this fiasco. I'm just getting started. But in closing this post, may I suggest some title changes to the songs sung in chapel at SWBTS. To be consistent with the neo-fundamentalistic, anti-Christ movement occurring in the administration of SWBTS, I suggest the appropriate song titles should be:

"All Hail the Power of Moral Claim"

"Holy, Holy, Holy Is Morality"

"At the Name of Moral Living"

"My Moral Behavior, I Love Thee"

"Morality Saves!"

Well, you get the picture. In the next post, I will show how absurd it is for Southwestern administration to shift the focus away from hiding and concealing the allowance of practicing and observing Mormons and Muslims to enter the school's theological training. The reasoning I've heard from administration for justifying this practice includes:

(1). They aren't 'devout' Mormons or Muslims, just 'observant' or  'practicing' Mormons and Muslims.
(2). We are concerned for the 'safety' of our Muslim and Mormon friends, that's why we didn't tell anybody we were letting them enter our Baptist seminary.
(3). Relax everyone! They are moral Muslims and Mormons before we take them into our seminary, and as we give them theological training, we hope that they will become Christians. They are making 'progress' and all you parents of missionaries in third world countries who have sons and daughters on the mission field - TRUST US - they are safe because everyone we bring to our school, including all the Muslims, are peaceable!

I'll address that kind of thinking in the next post.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Southwestern Baptist Islamic Theological Seminary and the Center for Cultural Engagement and Firing

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas has been providing theological education for Christian men and women since 1908.

Something very strange and bizarre is happening at Southwestern and Southern Baptists should intervene before we lose our seminary to evangelical irrelevancy.

Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Theological Seminary, ordered his admissions office in 2012, in violation of the school charter and the Southern Baptist Convention's mandate for theological training, to allow the admission of a professing, devout Muslim into the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is a very serious issue which must be addressed by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Ghassan Sa'id (last name removed) is a Ph.D. student from Egypt studying archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and will begin his third and final year in the School  of Theology this fall, under the leadership of David Allen, dean of the School of Theology, and Dr. George Klein, Senior Associate Dean for the Research Doctoral Program.   Professors of Archaeology for Southwestern include Dr. Eric Mitchell, Chair;  Dr. Tom Davis, and Dr. Steve Ortiz. When Ghassan finishes his studies, he will receive a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with a major in archaeology from Southwestern Seminary's School of Theology.  In a faculty meeting in 2012, Dr. Patterson warned anyone who questioned him about Muslims being admitted into Southwestern, or anyone who was disloyal to him and discussed this matter with others not associated with Southwestern would be terminated. Dr. Patterson went on to explain that "it is not necessary to be a Christian" to enroll in Southwestern's Ph.D. program.

The campus is abuzz. Many faculty are upset. Yet, most are afraid to say anything because of 'repercussions.' I've been told by students, "I don't want my transcripts blocked for speaking out" and many of the faculty are concerned for their jobs. All the while, Dr. Patterson acts as if there is nothing wrong with Southern Baptists, through the Cooperative Program, funding the theological education of practicing Muslims. He is intending to enroll a father/son Muslim team in the near future. Dr. Patterson is turning SWBTS is school without Christian distinctive. I find it ironic that he fired Dr. Sherry Klouda for teaching Hebrew because she 'was a woman', and argued before the courts that Southwestern was 'a church' and that the courts had no business ruling on gender roles within ecclesiastical institutions. Using Dr. Patterson's same argument, I have a question for him: Would a Southern Baptist pastor allow a member into his church who refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

Ironically, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's own policy forbids enrolling anyone who refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior!  If one goes to the Admissions Page for Southwestern Theological Seminary and starts the process of enrollment into the Ph.D. program at the School of Theology. On page 5 the application form requests that the applicant "explain your decision to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior." The admissions office informs the applicant that his or her answer to this question will be very important as to whether or not the applicant is allowed to enroll at Southwestern. The application for admission puts it like this:
"Southwestern is charged with equipping called men and women for effective Kingdom Service. The Admissions Committee is especially interested in reading about your commitment to Christ and plans for Christian service."
So, Paige Patterson ordered his admissions staff to act contrary to the school's policy and charter, the will of the Southern Baptist Convention, and possibly to even contrary to the will of his own trustees (?). The admission of a practicing Muslim who prays toward Mecca five times a day, who refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and who will leave the School of Theology and presumably work against the good news of Jesus Christ is something that should concern every Southern Baptist who funds theological education with Cooperative Program money.

We Southern Baptists believe in freedom. We believe that Muslims should have the right to believe
as they wish, pray as they wish, and enjoy all the civil liberties that we Christians enjoy in America. I have many Muslim friends. I have spoken at Muslim meetings here and abroad. This issue is not about Baptists not liking Muslims. Not at all. The issue is about Southern Baptists funding seminaries like Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to the tune of three million dollars annually and having a seminary led by a President who overrides the wishes of the Convention and rules by fiat, not principle.

This issue is one of integrity and ethics, and if not addressed, ultimately an issue of power. Who actually determines how the Southern Baptist Convention will conduct ourselves? Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is becoming something other than Southern Baptists intended at its formation in 1908. When faculty members are afraid to speak up over a violation of school policy and charter requirements because of a fear of firing, then "Fort Worth, we have a problem."

This past Monday, Paige Patterson terminated Dr. Craig Mitchell, Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement (see picture to the left). Dr. Mitchell, the first African American ever appointed to head an institution of the Southern Baptist Convention, was released by Patterson's fiat. Dr. Mitchell testified before Congress in 2012 regarding the ethical dilemma of ObamaCare providing for abortions. Dr. Mitchell is a product of a Southern Baptist Theological education, well-liked by students and faculty alike, and has a national reputation for scholarship and excellence. I have not yet spoken to Dr. Mitchell. I do know Dr. Mitchell's firing has not been publicized, nor has his bio been removed (as of Friday, May 16, 2014), from Southwestern's web page, but that will probably change by this weekend. I found out through friends of Dr. Patterson that they were told by the President of SWBTS of his firing.  Here is what I don't understand. The President of a theological institution is firing the Director of his Center for Cultural Engagement for allegedly making a 'joke' on his Facebook account (something like "if you have to spend thirty minutes putting your make-up on, you are probably too ugly to begin with") and three other allegations just as strange, yet at the same time, the SWBTS President is secretly--and against the will of the Convention and stated policies of his own school--mandating the theological education (and funding) of a practicing Muslim by the School of Theology. Maybe the wrong person was fired last week.

A friend suggested to me that I should give Paige Patterson the benefit of the doubt regarding Ghassan Sa'id _______. He said "the last two declared Muslims Paige Patterson brought under his patronage turned out not to be Muslims at all." Humor aside, the Islamic faith of Ghassan Sa'id ______ seems very real. Let me illustrate.

At a prayer meeting this past fall, several International Mission Board missionaries and employees from foreign countries were invited to participate, along with students at Southwestern Theological Seminary. As introductions were being made, Ghassan introduced himself as "a Muslim" at Southwestern. Thinking that he had said "a minister to Muslims," one of our IMB missionaries responded, "And where do you minister to Muslims?" Ghassan responded, "No, I AM a Muslim. I believe there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." Immediately, our IMB missionaries began removing their name tags. Some of those missionaries were in Security Three zones where their very identity is supposed to be protected. (Editor's note: The previous anecdote is summary of what was told me by two people at the meeting).

Some have suggested to me that Paige Patterson has a theological problem. Dr. Patterson has  tweeted about the Godhead and displayed a measure of modalism that is shocking, especially coming from a seminary President. He tweeted in response to a theological question asked of him, "The divine economy is limited to the presence of one member of the Trinity at a time."  One would hope a junior high boys Sunday School class would be able to respond with better theological precision than Patterson displays. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that the problem with Dr. Patterson's leadership is solely theological.

I believe Dr. Paige Patterson's leadership can be faulted on the grounds of ethics. He is bypassing the rule of those who govern him (trustees), threatening those who work for him if they dare question his decision to admit Muslims to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Maybe he's hoping that the people of the Southern Baptist Convention will not care what he does because he is "Paige Patterson."

Well, I care. My church cares. You, too, should care. I plan to be in Baltimore for the Southern Baptist Convention to ask other Southern Baptists their feelings about having their Cooperative Program dollars pay for the education of Muslims at Southwestern Seminary.

It's time someone holds Dr. Patterson accountable for his actions.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

'Relational Restoration' in Child Abuse Cases Is Never an Excuse for Lack of Exposure

 An extraordinary church sexual abuse trial in Maryland just came to a conclusion today. Former Covenant Life, Gaithersburg, Maryland church leader Nathaniel Morales was found guilty on all five counts related to sexual molestations of minors. A corresponding civil lawsuit that addresses what some call "the largest evangelical church child sexual abuse cover-up" in history is stalled in the courts over a fight regarding the statute of limitations. However, the criminal trial this week brought attention to the horrific abuse perpetrated by the molester. One of the men instrumental in bringing this church child abuse case to light, Brent Detwiler, wrote an extraordinary blog a few weeks ago where he responded to the withering criticism he received on Facebook for forcing leaders in the Sovereign Grace network of churches to acknowledge and account for the mishandling and subsequent cover-up of child sexual molestation. The victims, as adults, decided it was time to hold the molester accountable. At first, church leaders "denied" a cover-up. But when the civil suit was filed, the lid was blown off. Caution: the allegations in the civil suit are graphic.

One has to wonder why church leaders who were told about child sexual molestations occurring within their church did not go to civil authorities (the police, child protective services, etc...) when they first heard the allegations. Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently said this about the responsibility of church leaders when given information of child molestation:
“If someone comes and says ‘I have been abused sexually’ or ‘I know someone who’s been abused sexually,’ you have to first of all recognize that there are two authorities at work here, and both of them need to be involved. Caesar has a responsibility to deal with this at the civil level. The church has a responsibility to deal with this at the ecclesial level. You immediately call the police. Even if you don’t know whether this is true or not, you don’t know whether or not this has actually happened, you call the police and you say, ‘Caesar has a responsibility, the government has a responsibility, to investigate this."
Amen, Dr. Moore, Amen. Unfortunately, some evangelical churches refuse to report child sexual molestation to the proper civil authorities and practice what is called "relational restoration." This is an attempt by church 'authorities' to get the victim of abuse in a room with his or her abuser and bring 'restoration' to the relationship through leading the molester to seek repentance for his or her molestations, and to lead the victim to forgiveness of the molester for his or her acts of abuse. It is my opinion that the practice of relational restoration is often the reason churches refuse to report child sexual molestation to police. Church authorities feel such matters should 'stay within the church.' It seems I'm not alone. At last year's national convention of the Presbyterian Church of America, a motion was brought before the assembly requesting that Presbyterian churches cooperate with government officials in "exposing and bringing to justice all probable perpetrators..." and to refrain from private "church discipline" or "relational restoration"  apart from the fulfillment of mandated reporting duties. The pertinent paragraph within the official motion reads as follows:
RESOLVED that we pledge our commitment to work and fully cooperate with duly appointed God-ordained government officials in exposing and bringing to justice all probable perpetrators, who morally and criminally harm the children placed in our trust, and not in any perceivable way display reluctance in fully cooperating with lawful authorities by attempting to handle the issue internally by subjecting either the supposed victim or alleged criminal perpetrator to private “church discipline” or "relational restoration” apart from the fulfillment of our mandated reporting duties to God-ordained government authorities....
Those church leaders who practice 'relational restoration' or 'church discipline' without exposing and identifying the perpetrator of child sexual abuse do more damage than they realize. The fact that church officials did nothing to expose Nate Morales at the time they discovered his acts of molestation has led to years of pain for both the victims and those who tried to warn the church of their civic responsibility.

It's hard to argue against a statute of limitations in a civil case when a criminal court convicts a man of child sexual abuse decades after the abuse occurred.  Regardless of repentance, forgiveness, and any 'relational restoration,' forced or unforced, acts of child sexual molestation require full exposure.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Austin Davis, Covenant Presbyterian, and the Present Day Battle of Nashville, Tennessee

"The reason why offenders get away with what they do is because we have too many cultures of silence. When something does surface, all too often the church leadership quiets it down. Because they’re concerned about reputation: ‘This could harm the name of Jesus, so let’s just take care of it internally.’ Jesus doesn’t need your reputation! When somebody says that, it’s a lie. Keeping things in the dark and allowing souls to be destroyed by abuse, that shames the Gospel. Jesus is all about transparency.” Boz Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and President of G.R.A.C.E.

On a picturesque hill in southern Nashville, Tennessee, a knoll the old-timers named Red Bud Hill, sits a beautiful building called Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA). On weekends, hundreds of people gather for worship services at this facility, one of the leading PCA churches in the south. Throughout the week the building is occupied by the staff, faculty and students of The Covenant School.  The land around the church and school once belonged to the family of Amy Grant (the Burtons), but it is best known as the location where Union forces amassed to stop the advancing Confederate army during the last major Confederate offensive of the Civil War. This December 15-16, 1864 Civil War battle is called by historians The Battle of Nashville.

Today, Red Bud Hill is the location of another battle of Nashville.

The modern skirmish, unlike its predecessor, is being fought in the courtroom and not the countryside. The legal battle is being discussed with hushed tones in the tony parlors of homes in Belle Meade, Brentwood, Franklin, and other Nashville suburbs. The fight has led to verbal sparring in the classrooms and hallways of the prestigious girls school, Harpeth Hall, as well as other private schools in Nashville.  The interesting twist to this particular civil case is the allegation that wealthy and influential Covenant Presbyterian Church leaders "unlawfully intimidated" Austin Davis and his family. Specifically,  the allegation is that in 2008 Covenant Presbyterian church officials sought to intentionally ruin Mr. Davis' good name and reputation by falsely accusing him of being 'mentally unbalanced,' telling civil authorities, members of the congregation, and others that he was "a security concern" and was "threatening to bring harm to the congregation or its members by use of force, including but not limited to guns." This slander, according to the allegation, was designed to discredit Austin Davis and to allow church officials to conceal from public view the  "heinous and repetitive"  sexual molestations of a minor by one of the church's officers (see Complaints 18-24).

Attorney Duncan Cave
This court battle, waged by attorney Duncan Cave, has received very little attention nationally, and surprisingly, none from the Nashville media as of yet. Some of the same people involved in the investigation and prosecution of the infamous Vanderbilt rape case and the murder investigation of Steve McNair are part of this modern day battle which has affected the lives of many people, particularly Austin Davis, his wife Catherine, and their two teenage children, Daisy and Drew.  Austin Davis has gone from a deacon and chairman of the Mercy Committee at Covenant Presbyterian Church and the man who designed the Covenant School logo, insisting the Latin phrase Veritas Christo et Ecclesia  ("Truth for Christ and the Church")  be included, to a man now persona-non-grata at Covenant Presbyterian Church, alleged by Covenant Presbyterian Church officers to be 'mentally unstable' and a 'potential shooter,' and talked about by those influential leaders in the church with disgust and disdain.

This is no ordinary church conflict. My purpose in writing is to familiarize the reader with Austin Davis and his family, and to encourage people to review the appropriate data and records, and to refrain from making a judgment against Austin Davis or Covenant Presbyterian without performing personal due diligence.

Austin Davis at Covenant (May 2014)
Austin Davis grew up in Natchez, Mississippi where his grandfather worked as a dairy farmer. "My grandfather was the closet example to Christ I will ever see on this planet," Austin says.  His father, a Korean War veteran, was "the toughest, most fearless man I ever new, but he thought Christians were spineless and too afraid to stand up for what they believed."  Austin's mother taught him the gospel when he was a boy and Austin received Christ as his Savior at a young age. "My dad would often tell me he had been to 'hell and back' and that he could never believe in a God that was so unjust and cruel." However, years later, after intense and often difficult dialogue with his father, Austin would eventually guide his father (age 70) to faith in Christ just a year before his death in 2002.  In 1961 Austin's father was accepted to Vanderbilt University,  earning an Atomic Energy Commission scholarship for his masters in physics. Mr. Davis moved his family from Natchez to Nashville, where Austin spent most of his early school years. After graduation, Austin's father worked for IBM in Nashville. Later, he was transferred to New Orleans and moved his family to the Big Easy for a couple of years. Then IBM transferred Austin's father to Memphis, Tennessee where Austin attended his senior year of high school at the prestigious all boys Memphis University School. The instructors and classmates at Memphis University School drilled into Austin the school's legendary 'honor code," reinforcing the principles his own father had taught him over the years at home. Austin graduated from Memphis University School in 1973 and went to play baseball for the University of Mississippi.  However, his dream (Austin would call it his 'impossible dream') of playing baseball for former Yankee player and then current baseball coach at Ole Miss, Jake Gibbs, ended his freshman year with an eye injury while in the batting cage. Austin would go on to graduate from Ole Miss with a degree in business.

After graduation from college, Austin Davis  went back to Memphis to work on writing his first novel rather than going to law school.  Austin loved reading and history and had a desire to make writing his career. It was during this time that he met  the great Civil War historian Shelby Foote and the two became life-long friends. Though Shelby was a declared agnostic, Austin would enter into deep conversations about God with Shelby, especially toward the end of his life. "I was blessed to be his friend and to pray with him all the way to the bitter end, including in the critical care unit, as Shelby laid down his weapons to end his 'war' with God and came to peace with the Almighty." It was Shelby Foote who taught Austin never to throw away any document, letter, or other evidentiary material and to record everything with the meticulous note keeping and documentation of a historian.  That training would serve well Austin Davis later in life.      

Austin and Catherine Davis, Daisy and Drew (2000)
After writing his first novel, Austin entered the business world and moved in the early 1980's to Nashville, where his father and mother had also relocated. Austin would meet his future wife, Catherine Fleming, while the two were seated near each other on the back row during a Sunday morning worship service. Catherine's father, Dr. James Fleming,  was a well-known plastic surgeon in Nashville. The Flemings were close family friends with the Tennessee Gore family. Al and Tipper Gore would often babysit Catherine when she was a little girl, and Al's very first campaign fundraiser was held in the living room of the Fleming family home in Bell Meade.  Austin Davis and Catherine Fleming would be married in 1992 at Covenant Presbyterian. Austin was 36. Catherine was 30. It was the first marriage for both. The young couple loved Covenant Presbyterian, the pastoral staff, and the ministries of the growing church. It was the practice of Catherine to invite strangers and new acquaintances from all walks of life to church on Sundays, and in many instances, she would pick them up and bring them herself, taking her guests out for lunch after church. On occasion, Catherine would send Austin to pick up  former Senator Al Gore, Sr. and his wife Pauline and bring them to Covenant Presbyterian, an act of kindness for a loving relationship for the Gores that had received Secret Service clearance for Austin and his entire family. Austin and Catherine had deep roots in Nashville and throughout the state of Tennessee and a love for people in general.

George Digby, Austin, and the Digby Vols
In 1995 Catherine Davis gave birth to a daughter named Daisy, and a little over three years later she gave birth to a son named Drew. Austin worked hard to provide for his wife and two kids financially, but he was always active and involved in his kids lives, including coaching his son's all-star summer baseball team, which won the Tennessee state championship in 2011. During a chance meeting in a restaurant in Nashville, Austin met the legendary Boston Red Sox scout George Digby who was in his 90's and living in Nashville. Austin would become a very close friend with George until his death on May 3, 2014.   George Digby was tickled pink when Coach Austin and his son Drew named their team "The Digby Vols" in honor of him. In addition to coaching his son's baseball team, Austin filled in as athletic director for a year at the prestigious Ensworth School when the school's beloved athletic director battled brain cancer.

Pastor Jim Bachmann
The Austin Davis family attended Covenant Presbyterian faithfully during the 1990's and 2000's and participated in all church activities. Austin became close personal friends with Jim Bachmann, the Senior Pastor of Covenant. Jim had moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Nashville in order to become the Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian in 1991, the same year Austin began attending the church. Austin and Catherine made many other friends within Covenant during the 1990's and early 2000's.  Austin joined the men's church softball team and Catherine participated in the women's ministries. Austin was elected by the church to serve as an officer of Covenant, becoming a member of the Diaconate. By 2000 the Diaconate had appointed Austin Davis to be Chairman of Covenant's Mercy Committee, bearing the responsibility of helping church members in distress or need. The church continued to grow, and plans were soon made to build a $18 million dollar Gothic sanctuary on top of Red Bud Hill.

In 2002 Austin Davis, in his role as Chairman of Covenant's Mercy Committee and an officer of the church, began to question church leaders as to why The Book of Church Order was not being followed in the discipline of a church member named Greg Lurie. Austin believed that following the church approved rules and procedures provided checks and balances for church power. Without them, church leaders had the unchecked ability and means to destroy a person's life, particularly when  church leaders desired to protect the reputation of another church leader and/or his family.

Favoritism, Cronyism, and the Book of Church Order

Greg Lurie
Greg Lurie joined Covenant Presbyterian by profession of faith in late 1993. Greg's background was in accounting and he served as the Director of Finance for Belmont University (1999-2002), and later held various positions in the accounting offices of Lipscomb University, Fisk University and served as a consultant to national corporations. After joining Covenant in 1993, Greg married the daughter of a Covenant elder in a ceremony performed by Pastor Jim Bachmann during the September 24, 1995 Sunday morning worship service. It was the second marriage for both Greg and his new wife, and they each brought children into the union. Over the next five years Greg's new wife would give birth to four additional children and experience two miscarriages. After the birth of their fourth child, Greg's wife went to work at Covenant Presbyterian in the early childhood development department. Due to the pressures of  a blended family, work, and other personal struggles in both Greg and his wife, conflict began to arise within the Lurie marriage. In the fall of 2000, the Luries reached out to the pastors of Covenant Presbyterian for counseling and support.

On Friday, March 1, 2002 Greg and his wife were involved in a marital dispute in the parking lot of Bellevue Center Mall. There is disagreement between the two parties as to what actually occurred, but after the pastoral staff discussed the event with Greg's wife and Greg's father-in-law, Covenant Presbyterian pastors decided to take Greg Lurie's four small children away from him, without his knowledge, and place them in what the pastors told Greg much later was 'a safe house.' Greg was told that Saturday he and his wife needed a cooling off period. Then, on the following Sunday, March 3, 2002, with Greg's two older children from his first marriage sitting with him in their customary spot on the second row of Covenant Presbyterian, communion was not given to Greg, to his 12-year old son or to his 9-year-old daughter by the elder assigned to his row. The elder happened to be Greg's father-in-law. The refusal to serve communion at Covenant is the consequence of excommunication from the church. Greg was confused. Was he being excommunicated? Were his kids from his first marriage no longer deemed 'worthy' of communion since they had received it before? Had the church judged him and tried him regarding his marriage and the marital dispute on Friday night without hearing from him?

Greg Lurie Appeals to the Nashville Presbytery

That afternoon, Sunday, March 3, 2002, Greg Lurie wrote an email to the Presbyterian Church of America requesting their denominational help. Greg felt that Covenant Presbyterian's pastoral staff and elders were making unilateral decisions about him without hearing from him, not to mention these decisions were being based on erroneous information and false assumptions given to them by his wife and her father. Because Greg's father-in-law was an elder and friends with the other men in the Session, Greg felt that his side was not even being heard. Unbeknown to Greg at the time, that Sunday morning in church, church leaders came to Catherine Davis's classroom where she taught the five-year-old Sunday School class and told Catherine that if Greg Lurie came to pick up his  daughter, Catherine was not to give the child to her father under any circumstances. "I was a little shaken by what I heard," said Catherine. "I went home and asked Austin, 'What has Greg Lurie done?'" Austin felt it was his responsibility, as Chairman of the Mercy Committee, to find out what was going on within the Greg Lurie family. It would be more than a week later before he had a chance to talk to Greg.

By that time, Greg was not in the mood to visit with anyone from Covenant. From Friday, March 1, 2002 to Friday, March 8, 2002, Covenant Presbyterian pastors and elders, according to Greg Lurie, "had steamrolled me." When Austin entered the picture in the middle of March 2002 to try to help Greg restore his marriage, he went to Greg and later to his wife as an officer of Covenant, fulfilling his role and responsibility as Chairman of the Mercy Committee and deacon of Covenant Presbyterian.
"At the time I didn't know much of what was going on." says Austin, "I wasn't sure whether or not to believe what the pastoral staff and elders were saying about Greg. Greg definitely was not sure whether or not he could trust me, because I was an official from the church. However, after visiting and helping Greg over the course of several months, I developed two serious concerns with our church pastors and Session over how Greg's situation had been handled: (1). First, the Book of Church Order had not been followed. Why was process not given to Greg, a member of Covenant? (2). Second, Greg's own children were taken from him without his direct knowledge as to where they were or how long they would be away. It was sometime later when Greg was finally told they had been taken to "a safe house," the home of another officer of Covenant.  How could pastors have this kind of 'authority' over a man's family?  I was concerned for this man's young children. I wanted some answers. When I first began to ask questions, I was told by one of the elders and a pastor of the church, 'Austin, don't stick your nose in this business unless you've been called to it.' That made me think through my calling. I had been called. It was my responsibility to 'care for the flock" as a deacon. I learned as a boy that honor was more important than reputation. The honorable thing to do was to ask the questions that needed asking, regardless of the rich and powerful people who wanted me to shut up. For the next four years I kept asking the questions that nobody seemed to want to answer."
Greg Lurie's marriage was never able to be reconciled, and the divorce was finalized on March 31, 2004. Austin Davis continued to ask his questions, moving from asking them verbally during private committee meetings to placing his concerns in writing to other officers of the church. To get a sense of the humble and respectful spirit Austin Davis displayed as he voiced his questions and concerns about process in dealing with members to the Covenant Presbyterian's pastors and elders, you can read Austin's December 3, 2003 letter to them. Less than a month later, on December 31, 2003, Austin writes a detailed and well-reasoned letter appealing to Covenant Presbyterian's Session to follow the Book of Church Order. Greg Lurie, through the encouragement of Austin Davis, continued to attend Covenant Presbyterian throughout 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. When Austin Davis heard that Covenant was possibly removing Greg from the church rolls on December 31, 2004 for alleged non-attendance, Austin wrote another letter dated December 3, 2004, asking Covenant's church officers to again to follow the Book of Church Order and not play favorites with members.

Austin Davis' Continuing Concerns with Covenant Presbyterian

In 2005, Austin exchanged letters with the Covenant pastor who had counseled Greg Lurie and his wife, attempting to express his concerns that the emphasis of Covenant's pastoral counsel with couples facing marital difficulty should be restoration, not divorce.  Because the Lurie divorce had been finalized by 2005, Austin's letters expressed his general concerns with the number of divorces at Covenant and the pastoral response to them, and the letters were written by hand, sent to one pastor only. In response, the Covenant pastor gave Austin's letters to the Session (pg. 3) and then wrote Austin saying, "Your problem Austin is not with me. It is with the entire session and pastoral staff. We stand united..."

Austin felt that his only chance of correcting the problem of Covenant Presbyterian skirting the Book of Church Order in Greg Lurie's case, not to mention future cases, leading to the Session showing favoritism to certain members, was for Austin to address the entire church body regarding his concerns. For nearly four years, Austin had written only to the Covenant Presbyterian officers and pastors in his role as a fellow officer of the church, but by 2005/2006 he determined the church needed to hear from him directly regarding the issues. Not surprisingly, his requests to personally speak to the congregation were refused. After again reading the Book of Church Order, Austin had an idea. He offered his resignation as a deacon of Covenant Presbyterian in May of 2006, believing that the Book of Church Order gave a resigning officer the right to address the church regarding the reasons for his resignation. However, after offering to resign his position as a Covenant officer, his request to address the church was still denied. Finding all avenues closed to resolve what Austin believed to be a serious matter within his church, Austin wrote a letter dated  June 9, 2006, to the Nashville Presbytery, requesting that they "investigate serious offenses of the pastors and Session ... of the church I dearly love." The following Sunday, the Covenant pastor involved with the Greg Lurie counseling "aggressively engaged" Austin Davis and his family in response to Austin's letter to the Presbytery. Just a few days later a church 'court' determined that Austin needed to repent for causing "considerable pain and the congregation of Covenant."

Austin, Drew, Catherine and Daisy Davis (May 2014)
Finally, after four years of attempting to get the Covenant Presbyterian pastors and Session to follow the Book of Church Order and to avoid favoritism, cronyism and partiality among its members, the Austin Davis family resigned from membership at Covenant in a letter dated July 26, 2006, and Austin resigned as an officer of the church. Austin Davis and his family were leaving the church they loved. They kept the details of their concerns regarding Covenant Presbyterian discreet, and would leave the church without  making those details known to everybody. Ironically, just days after he resigned, Austin heard that the Session had been deliberating formal 'discipline charges'  against him for 'sowing discord.'  In response, Austin wrote a letter to the Session in September 2006 requesting reinstatement to the church, believing that the implementation of 'process' (formal discipline charges) against him would allow him to finally voice his concerns regarding the leadership of Covenant in a public forum. Austin's request for reinstatement was denied.

For several months the Davis' family did not attend Covenant Presbyterian. Then, a few Covenant friends and an Ethiopian evangelical minister began to encourage the Davis' family to reconcile with the leadership of Covenant. Close friends knew  that there were problems with the leadership, but they didn't know all the specifics. All they did know was the Davis family was being missed at church. They urged true Christian reconciliation. With so many friends at Covenant, and with no desire to be in leadership again, Austin Davis followed the advice and encouragement of his friends and wrote an 'apology' to the Session. Austin wrote it in March of 2007 and some time during the summer of 2007, Austin and his family began attending Covenant again.  In August 2007, the Covenant pastor who had been most intimately involved in the Greg Lurie divorce took a new position in a PCA church in Chicago. (Note: This former Covenant Presbyterian pastor had a relationship with a woman that was not his wife while in Chicago and is no longer with the church).  After the pastor left Covenant, and after the Davis family had been faithfully attending for several months, Austin requested readmission to membership for himself and his family in a letter dated November 27, 2007. The Session denied Austin's request in a response that is dated November 29, 2007, a letter signed by the clerk of Covenant Presbyterian's Session and containing the following statement to Austin:
"We encourage you to pursue membership in a church whose leadership you can trust and follow."
However, Austin Davis and his family continued to attend Covenant as they had done since 1992, the year of their marriage. A Covenant friend of Austin reached out again to the Session of Covenant Presbyterian in January of 2008, proposing a resolution whereby the women of the Davis family could be readmitted to Covenant Presbyterian as members provided Austin would agree to the following statement:
"Membership is reinstated if I do not pursue this matter (an investigation of Covenant leadership) with the Presbytery, and once membership is granted I will not challenge, fight or dissent with leadership again."
Austin Davis AGREED to those terms.  That shows Austin had no vendetta and just wanted to get back to worshipping at the church where he had been a member for over 15 years. However, a wise Covenant pastor who himself later left Covenant Presbyterian over disputes with leadership, refused to allow Austin to sign the agreement because of the phrase the Session insisted Austin sign- "Once membership is granted I will not challenge...or dissent with leadership again." That pastor wisely felt for Austin to agree to such a statement would be foolish. The pastor told Austin, "You can't sign this because no Christian should bind his conscience."

A Dark Secret at Covenant Presbyterian

In the summer of 2007, a youth worker at Covenant Presbyterian was told by a high school junior-to-be that she had been repeatedly sexually molested by her adopted father when she was a young girl. This youth worker reported the allegations of abuse to a pastor at Covenant Presbyterian and confirms that pastoral staff at Covenant knew of the abuse allegations in 2007. For several months the adopted father of the girl, a man who happened to be a church officer at Covenant and the owner of 'the safe house' where the pastors placed the four children of Greg Lurie in the spring of 2002 without Greg Lurie's knowledge, repeatedly denied that he had sexually molested his minor adopted daughter.

However, at some point in early 2008, around the time Austin Davis was willing 'for the sake of peace' to sign a statement that he would "never challenge ... or dissent with (Covenant Presbyterian) leadership again," the father of the girl 'confessed' to church officers his acts of child molestation. The confessed child molester was assisted by Covenant leadership to enter a sexual treatment clinic. Upon arriving back home from treatment, the wife of the confessed child molester filed for separation. Nearly a year later, on March 13, 2009, the wife of the confessed  child abuser filed for divorce, giving one of the reasons for the filing as:
"The past acts of abuse and molestation of the parties' minor child."  (Allegation #8)
Ironically, in the summer of 2007, the same summer when Covenant leadership became aware of the allegations of molestation against one of their church officers, I stepped to the microphone at the Southern Baptist Convention and made a motion that ...
"A database be developed containing the names of all Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse, and that such a database be accessible to Southern Baptist churches."
Though I am not a Presbyterian, my motion was rooted in the knowledge that there is a tendency within religious denominations to 'conceal and cover' sexual abuse by church officers and ministers out of concern for the "reputation" of the church. TIME Magazine declared that the failure of my motion was 'one of the Top 10 most underreported stories in the nation that year.'

When the church officer at Covenant Presbyterian 'confessed' to his molestations in the spring of 2008, there seems to have been no effort by Covenant Presbyterian leadership to 'make known' or 'reveal' the sins of their church officer. There is no police report. There is no public record. There are no discovered church court minutes recording his sins. The Tennessee  Department of Child Services, the Davidson County District Attorney's Office, the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, and other civil authorities can produce no record that they were ever notified by the Covenant Session in 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2010 of the child molestations.

 In addition, the child molester continued to attend Covenant Presbyterian without notification of the church body of his confessed actions, meaning there were no boundaries in place to protect children.

What does happen at Covenant Presbyterian Church after the confession of the child molester in April 2008 to July 2008 seems shocking, and it forms the basis for the lawsuit by Austin Davis against Covenant Presbyterian the Nashville Presbytery and the National PCA.

The Person Exposing the Problem Becomes the Problem
Austin Davis gives up on becoming a member of Covenant Presbyterian. However, because his kids attend school with many young people in the church, and because his wife and mother-in-law (Nancy Fleming) have so many connections in the church, Austin gives his blessing for the women in his family, without him, to go through membership classes and he will just sit on the sidelines and attend Covenant without being a member.
However, on March 26, 2008, after completing the required membership classes, Nancy Fleming and Catherine Davis were denied membership by three members of the Session. The reasons given were "the lack of trustworthiness and Christian character" of Austin Davis. Nancy and Catherine were shocked. They were hurt. No, they were very hurt.
One of the Session members in that March 26, 2008 meeting later 'denied' the men refused membership to Catherine and Nancy, but Catherine says, "He's flat out lying. In fact, after we were denied membership, I called the church office the next morning to confirm and I was told "Pastor Jim Bachmann will not allow you two to become members."
After six years of attempting to reason with the Session, after fighting off repeated attempts to stop him from asking questions about the lack of due process for Greg Lurie (and others), not to mention being stiffed when asking questions about the safety and welfare of Greg's kids, and now hearing an emotional wife and mother-in-law tell him that they were denied membership at Covenant Presbyterian because he could not be trusted and lacked Christian character, Austin Davis made a decision.
For the first time ever, Austin decides to make known his concerns about church leadership to a broader audience, approximately 100 members of the church. Austin breaks his silence on May 29, 2008. Austin attaches three letters to his "Commonwealth" letter and sent packages to members of Covenant Presbyterian: He attached his April 19, 2008 letter to the clerk of the Covenant Session where he questions why his wife and mother-in-law are denied membership; he attached the April 24 letter from Session members, a letter where Austin is said to write continuing 'errors, inaccuracies, and distortions (and by even sending this letter to Covenant members, Austin shows he is never afraid of the truth), and; Austin attaches his May 15, 2008 letter to the new members of the Session, recounting the last six years for them (since they presumably are in the dark about past problems).
Remember, this is the FIRST time Austin writes to members at large of Covenant Presbyterian Church. You can sense his hurt (over the rejection of his family), but you still can hear his concern that Covenant Presbyterian Church do the right thing. Austin is not afraid to expose problems at the church because he believes the church of Jesus Christ should always do the right thing.
For the next month (June 2008), Covenant leadership is having to put out fires from members asking questions. Austin's letters make sense. People who have been previously in the dark begin to ask questions. Covenant leadership takes the standard approach, "Austin Davis is not trustworthy. You can't believe what he says. He's been a problem for years. He's a troublemaker." In dysfunctional systems, the person exposing the problems becomes the problem.
After waiting nearly a month, Austin responds to the charges that he is untrustworthy by writing a June 25, 2008 letter to Covenant Presbyterian members that says:
 "If the facts and evidence supporting my letters are uprightly determined to be untrue by the leadership of Covenant, I call for Pastor Jim Bachmann to publicly declare the letters to be a lie to safeguard the Lord's Commonwealth which he has vowed to shepherd and protect.
 If the facts and evidence supporting my letters are uprightly determined to be true by the leadership of Covenant, I call for immediate public repentance, restitution, and reconciliation to the glory of Christ and His Church.
 This next Sunday would be an appropriate time for six years of lies and slander to come to an end."
At last! The church would be able to publicly address all the issues Austin Davis has sought to address for the past six years! After six long years, approximately 100 members of Covenant Presbyterian now are aware of the issues! Why was there a lack of due process for Greg Lurie and others in the church who are opposed by people of 'power and influence' within the church? What is the reason for children being taken from their fathers and placed in a church designated 'safe house' without their fathers' knowledge? Why so many marriages at Covenant Presbyterian ending in divorce after counseling with the pastoral staff? Why is Covenant Presbyterian's Session and pastoral staff not following the Book of Church Order?
The issues would be publicly discussed Sunday, thought Austin! It was not to be.
There Is the Possibility of a Shooter, A Mentally Unstable Person in Our Midst
The last sentence of Austin's June 25, 2006 letter to the church - "This next Sunday would be an appropriate time for six years of lies and slander to come to an end" - was a sentence taken and twisted by the leadership at Covenant Presbyterian.
They began to tell people Austin was 'obsessed,' "mentally unstable," a "possible shooter," and a threat to the congregation and the pastors. The pastoral staff was instructed by Jim Bachmann to wear bullet proof vests. A "security team" was hired and established a perimeter around the church. A picture of Austin Davis was distributed to key personnel. Pastor Jim Bachmann and a handful of others in leadership at Covenant Presbyterian began to act as if Austin Davis was a modern John Dillinger.
The clerk of the Session of Covenant Presbyterian sent a threatening letter on Friday, June 27, 2008 to Austin Davis, telling him if he came to church he would be 'trespassing' and he should refrain from 'further harassment.' There are, however, no minutes of the Session meeting to authorize such a powerful injunction against a man and his family who had been attending church at Covenant for nearly two decades.
Austin was taken aback by the letter, and he was not going to go to church, but his 13-year-old daughter at the time, Daisy, reminded him that 'church is for everyone,' and he shouldn't let somebody threatening him keep him from attending God's house. On Sunday, June 29, 2008, after praying in the parking lot with his wife, son and daughter, Austin Davis walked into Covenant Presbyterian as he had done for over 18 years, accompanied by his family. He was accosted by men with guns, separated from his wife and children, and threatened to be thrown in jail if he ever set foot on the property again, even though the Nashville police were never called to the church property. The actions were taken by a 'private' security team. The entire experience was humiliating, and it is best described by Austin's mother-in-law who recounted the incident as well as other intimidation tactics against her granddaughter Daisy in this letter.
The Police Come to Austin's Home to Check His "Mental Condition"
Three nights later, on Wednesday, July 2, 2008, a detective and a sergeant for the Metro Nashville Police Department arrive on the front porch of Austin Davis' house at 8:05 pm to "check on his mental condition." The police stay for two hours, and according to the Davis family it is the "most traumatic, terrifying event in the history of our family." The intimidation was real; the fear was palpable. Covenant leadership, according to what the Davis' felt that night, was out to ruin Austin Davis' character and reputation, manipulating civil authorities into believing he was a "mentally unbalanced" stalker personality.
After almost 15 months of continual fear that somehow, someway, church officials would find a way to take Austin's children away from him and to imprison him for 'harassment,' Austin was able to communicate with a very helpful FBI agent who encouraged him to speak out on the intimidation he experienced. Austin wrote an excellent letter on July 31, 2011 to the clerk of the Covenant Session, requesting an explanation for the intimidation tactics Covenant used against him during the events of June/July 2008.
Austin's investigation into the events of June/July 2008 have turned up some interesting and strange facts that seem to indicate collusion between powerful church officials and civil authorities in Nashville, Tennessee. Those strange facts include odd police reports with no originating calls, connections between the investigating officer and the man (a lawyer in the church) who confronted Austin and threatened him with arrest on Sunday, June 29, 2008, and some very strange police behavior on Wednesday, July 2, 2008, the day the police showed up at his house, In short, Austin is alleging that the church manipulated the police through false statements to unlawfully silence a man who was asking questions that could wind up embarrassing the church.
If Austin's allegations are true, then the actions of the church are 'unlawful.' Thus, the court battle being waged by Duncan Cave. The circumstances regarding police involvement in attempting to 'silence and intimidate' Austin Davis are documented in a host of files dated from 2008 to 2014. The reader can judge for himself the validity of Austin's claims.
 The Child Molester Goes Free
Interestingly, on the night of July 14, 2008, two weeks after Austin Davis was accosted and threatened with arrest as he walked into church, the Session of Covenant Presbyterian was updated on the "Austin Davis security concern" by Pastor Jim Bachmann, the police officer who checked on 'the mental condition' of Austin on Wednesday night, July 2, 2008, and a powerful attorney within the church. The entire Session and Diaconate were provided 'background on Austin Davis.'
 'Background on Austin Davis.' It makes you wonder what was said about Austin Davis that night. I would propose that this post provides 'background on Austin Davis.'
At that same Session meeting, the 'resignation of a man from the Diaconate was 'accepted.'
That man is the one who confessed to child sexual molestation. The minutes of the Session record no background being given on that man.
For two additional years (2008 - 2010), that confessed child molester is allowed to walk freely through the buildings, halls and classrooms of Covenant Presbyterian Church and The Covenant School.
For those same two years (2008 -2010) Austin Davis is under perpetual 'threat of arrest' for harassment of the leaders of Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Finally, in June 2010, Covenant Presbyterian Church "excommunicates" the confessed child molester. The 'excommunication' occurs during the same summer Austin Davis, after 15 months of silence due to intimidation from church officials, and with the encouragement of a helpful FBI agent, begins to again ask questions of the Session. When the child molester is excommunicated from the church, the official stated reason is because he has been:
"...committing heinous and repetitive sin against his family and has not shown evidence of repentance."
An Update on the Austin Davis Family
Austin Davis has lost his job because of the controversy. Austin has no money any more to his name. He's going before bankruptcy court this week. He needs $3,000 to protect his house, and he doesn't have it. Austin is pretty low key about money, only talking about it with close friends and family. Somehow, someway, God intervenes. Austin Davis has lost his reputation because of the allegations against him. Austin's not lost his reputation by those who really know him. I've received several phone calls from friends of Austin who have known him since his Memphis University School days and Ole Miss days and everyone, to a man, tells me, "I've never known a more principled, honest man than Austin Davis."
Austin's not perfect. He's gritty. He's hard-headed and stubborn. He can say "damn" or "hell" every now and then, but Austin Davis loves Jesus. He's real. He's got soul. He fights for what is right. He's an anti-religious, non-pretentious Christian. He's my kind of follower of Jesus. Someone told his mother-in-law that her son 'was the most hated man in Nashville." Maybe so. But God loves Austin Davis because Austin Davis loves His Son.
Some Christians will gripe and complain about Austin Davis filing suit against Covenant Presbyterian Church. In my opinion, when a church falsely alleges one of their own is a potential 'shooter' and a 'crazy nut,' then that church ought to thank that person for taking them to court -- it's far better than their stated expectations.
In closing, I would encourage the reader to peruse for yourself the appropriate documents and do your due diligence before you choose a side in this present day battle of Nashville. As you read through the relevant and pertinent documents, ask yourself three important questions:
(1). Does a church have a responsibility to make known the identity of a known 'child molester'' to its congregation and community for the protection of children, or is it appropriate to cover and conceal the identity of a child molester for the protection of the church's and/or molester's reputation?
(2). Is it possible for an institutional church to use its power and influence to destroy the character and reputation of a person with little influence in the church, and if so, what 'checks and balances' are in place to prevent the subtle but powerful effects of spiritual and religious abuse, and why should Christians fight to insure these checks and balances are in place?
(3). If you've been moved by Austin's story, would you consider how the Spirit of God might be leading you to help the Austin Davis family?
In His Grace,
Wade Burleson