Boys and Their Toys: Understanding the Southern Baptist Convention's Celebrity Leadership Politics

Photo: Courtesy of The Christian Post
People who know me well will tell you that I tend to fight for the underdog and never hesitate to face down the big dog.

My wife knows that this penchant for rescuing the defenseless, resisting the domineering, and restoring the destroyed comes from my childhood.

The memory of having successfully resisted an older boy's attempt to bully me forever engraved and sealed those emotions in my memory wall.

It's one of the reasons I fell out of favor with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2005.

It might not be too much of an exaggeration to say I was a "Golden Boy" in the early years of my ministry. I pastored a large SBC church at 29, chaired a national SBC committee at the age of 33, and spoke at many local, state, and national SBC meetings, including serving as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma through 2004.

But in 2005, I realized that there was a problem in the SBC.

Some will fault me for not seeing the problem earlier. Candidly, I think I did see the problem, but I just thought "liberals" were the only ones who fell into the trap of the "good-old-boy" system of leadership.

In 2005, I realized that my friends, those Bible-believing conservatives who served beside me, were as guilty of fraternization, patronization, and celebritization as the moderates of the 1960s and 1970s.

I fell out of favor for exposing the system.

Indeed, the SBC is a "good old boys" network.


James MacDonald and Ed Stetzer

When James MacDonald petitioned to join the Southern Baptist Convention, his style of leadership did not find a friend in me.

I tried to warn the SBC.

But James quickly became a part of the "good old boys" system.

He began speaking at annual SBC conferences.

He began assuming high-profile leadership roles.

He became an SBC leader immediately.

And here's why.

James MacDonald knew how to play the game.

The Christian Post reported today that James MacDonald gave Southern Baptist leader Ed Stetzer "just under $13,000" in the form of a 1971 VW Beetle.

No big deal, right?

Except for the fact, Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer went on to become a contributing editor for Christianity Today, and according to the Christian Post:
"...arranged a conversation (between MacDonald and CT Deputy Managing Editor Jeremy Weber) that led to the magazine publishing MacDonald’s article defending his lawsuit against her and four other defendants, titled “Why Suing is Sometimes the Biblical Choice.”
I like what I know of Ed. I feel for him in this very public debacle. However, this bizarre situation should be a lesson for us all.

James MacDonald's gift to Ed Stetzer seems to prove that sycophantic celebrity leadership is not limited to one's theological persuasion.

Hat Tip: Dee at Wartburg Watch

46 comments:

  1. Wade, you should be aware that in making conclusions about Ed Stetzer based on one source, you are inadvertently bearing false witness. If you're interested in how things really played out, don't hesitate to get in touch. --Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today.

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    1. Me thinks you doth protest too much. You've been biased here. You've not been fair. I'm shocked.

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  2. Thank you Mark for your advice. I am curious about your "false witness" allegation.

    I may not be the brightest bulb in the room, but when the Christian Post states "(Stetzer) arranged a conversation between MacDonald and CT Deputy Managing Editor Jeremy Weber that led to the magazine publishing MacDonald’s article defending his lawsuit against her and four other defendants, titled “Why Suing is Sometimes the Biblical Choice" then the only people who need to talk are you (Mark Galli), Jeremy Weber, and Ed Stetzer together WITH Julie Roys, - not me.

    You cannot deny that a decision was made by you and others (Deputy Managing Editors and Editorial Contributors) to give the privilege of a published editorial to James MacDonald, while refusing to reach out to Julie Roys and asking her perspective, giving her the same opportunity to give a side-by-side editorial with James MacDonald. It seems the only "inadvertent false witness" is against Julie Roys, not Christianity Today, you, or Ed Stetzer.

    Surely you and others must have actually read the editorial you let James MacDonald write?

    Please read it again to see what was said of Julie Roys:

    1. "(she was) refusing to listen to the authority of church leaders"
    2. (she was) harming the church and "our first responsibility is to protect the church."
    3. (she led) people to "abandon THE faith" by her writings.
    4. (she wrote) "vitriol" that "devastated people saved through our ministry"
    5. (she brought) "so much damage to so many innocent people."
    6. (she made) "treasured staff who (once) supported us fully, resign."
    7. (she yelled) "fire in a crowded theater" and was negligent in her cry.
    8. (she should) "face the authorities...for six years (of) breaking multiple civil laws"
    9. (she must) realize "there is no righteous role remaining for (her)" by continuing writing.
    10. (she will) be dealt with through the lawsuit because "God will protect our church."

    Sorry, Mark Galli. I respect you but utterly reject the assertion that I am "inadvertently bearing false witness."

    I appreciate the word "inadvertently" but I rarely do anything accidentally or inadvertently. I am intentional, missional, and purposeful.

    I believe the Christianity Today editorial by James MacDonald portrayed Julie Roys in a horrible manner. False witness against her? I don't know Julie, but my experience is when the powerful bully the powerless, it's a sign that the powerful are afraid (think Martin Luther).

    That editorial was a bullying maneuver and Christianity Today is culpable (in my opinion).

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    1. Mark Galli must explain why Julie Roys wasn't given the same opportunity to write a piece. Looks like old boys network.

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  3. Poor Julie!

    thanks for your comment, Wade, as the charge against you seemed so strange and I can only think that the person accusing you does not know you, nor know of how you have helped people like Julie and others who have been persecuted

    If Christianity Today is going the way of SBCtoday, then it's time they reconsidered what they are doing and why they have gone so far off from the good path

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  4. As I posted to you on Twitter: Wade, as I’ve said repeatedly to Julie & on ct.com: I made the decision to run the piece by MacDonald. Ed did not ask or lobby for it— that idea came from Jeremy Weber & I approved it. Stetzer is not a news journalist. He writes blog articles on our site.

    Ed connected James with CT, a very common journalistic practice to help us connect with disgruntled readers/subjects. Just exchanged phone #s is all. Lots of people who know our staff do the same thing.

    In some situations, we invite people to respond theologically, like Andy Stanley did with OT. We told James he could NOT defend his situation, but only argue biblically about suing in general. That same week, our podcast took a different position.

    The word "inadvertent" suggests that you are unaware of certain facets of the story that have been left out of other accounts. I encourage you to do your own independent research into how CT operates, how journalism works, and so forth, and see what conclusions you come to. If you want to talk by phone, I'd be happy to do so. -Mark Galli

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  5. Thank you for your graciousness Mark.

    I do agree that I am "unaware" of certain facets of the story that have been left out of other accounts (e.g. Christian Post).

    In terms of your encouragement, I have done independent research - though will never know as much as you how CT operates, journalism works, etc...

    What I do know is a matter of public record.

    1. James MacDonald gave Ed Stetzer a car.
    2. James MacDonald sues a woman who is an online critic.
    3. The man given the car "connected James with Christianity Today" (your words).
    4. You made the decision to run James MacDonald's editorial.
    5. James MacDonald slams Julie Roys' character in writing (see my ten verbatim quotes above).
    6. Julie Roys was not given space in Christianity Today to respond.
    7. Months after the editorial, James MacDonald is removed by his elders for some of the very things that Julie wrote about.
    8. Julie Roys seems to be vindicated.
    9. The gift of a vehicle to Ed Stetzer comes out after MacDonald's removal from his position.
    10. Wade Burleson writes a post (even though he likes Ed Stetzer) talking about the SBC boys club where patronization, fraternization, and celebrization rule.

    I don't know what would change my opinion. Even your insistence that Ed had NOTHING to do with the editorial misses the point.

    "Ed connected James with CT" (again, your words) IS MY POINT.

    That's all.

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  6. I guess I'm confused as to why it's a problem that Ed connected James with CT. James actually didn't need Ed to do that. It was just more convenient. It's pretty easy to get a hold me by email. Ed connects us with all sorts of people all the time who want to talk to us or who we want to talk with. As do a number of people. Help me understand why that's a problem in your view. As I said, he did not in any way shape or form encourage us to write up anything for or against Harvest. Anyway, help me here.

    As I offered, we can talk by phone, and you can ask me anything you want, and explain your concerns more fully. Maybe Ed Stetzer could help us connect :-)))))

    --Mark



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    1. Are you stupid or just pretending? Setter recommending McDonald to you is problematic cos of the car! Also problematic you let a WOMAN be trashed and not offered her right if reply. But then she isn't an old boy and doesn't grease the palm. CT looking very bad here

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  7. Mark,

    You're brighter than I. You're also a great writer. I'm confused over your confusion.

    Could it be that you've hung around the powerful elite in evangelicalism for far too long and have lost sight of the least, the littlest, and the lost in the Kingdom? I don't know. Just asking.

    The best thing for CT to do was to BE SILENT when it came to the lawsuit filed by James MacDonald and Harvest against Julie Roys. If Julie Roys wrote you an email and asked for an editorial on the abusive power of celebrity pastors, or if Ed Stetzer connected Julie Roys with CT (and you) and she requested to write an editorial about the dangers of power run amok among celebrity pastors, would you have responded positively?

    I can't answer for you, but one of the reasons Christian people are jaded right now is because the "good old boys" protect their own, leaving the weak, the wounded, and the wronged to flounder.

    The fact that you engage with me in a public forum speaks of a humility of character that is indeed rare. I believe you will at some point conclude it was inappropriate to allow James MacDonald to write an editorial justifying his lawsuit against Julie Roys.

    Right now, it seems (and I can't say for sure because we don't know each other, and I never go to motive) that you may be more interested in loyally protecting a brother you believe has been wronged, than you are apologizing to a sister who a great many people - including me - has been incredibly wronged.

    That's why I'm confused over your confusion.

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  8. Okay. We're at an impasse, each confused about each other's confusion! Remember me in your prayers. And if you ever want to talk, I'm open. Blessings. --Mark

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    1. You have avoided answering his questions. Your confusion doesn't ring true. Why haven't you let Julie Roys reply? Will you now? Why not?

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  9. Mark
    I did try to get in touch with CT but did not receive a response. I have subscribed to CT for decades and the one time I reached out, I got no answer. Do you know what that says to me? Faithful and lowly subscribers who are not part of the celebrity Christian crowd are not worth the time. I'm terribly disappointed. By the way, Ed Stetzer didn't bother to respond to my inquiry either.

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  10. Mark Galli,

    perhaps if you answered this question, some things would clear up.

    "If Julie Roys wrote you an email and asked for an editorial on the abusive power of celebrity pastors, or if Ed Stetzer connected Julie Roys with CT (and you) and she requested to write an editorial about the dangers of power run amok among celebrity pastors, would you have responded positively?"

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  11. <<"If Julie Roys wrote you an email and asked for an editorial on the abusive power of celebrity pastors, or if Ed Stetzer connected Julie Roys with CT (and you) and she requested to write an editorial about the dangers of power run amok among celebrity pastors, would you have responded positively?">>

    Absolutely. Under the same restraints: It would have to have been an biblical argument about the abuse of power in general. The challenge would have been taking the argument forward, because we have editorialized on that very theme often over the years. Regarding specific cases (slightly different editorial theme), we've called for accountability at Calvary Chapel, Sovereign Grace, and Willow for example. We would have done the same with Harvest if the issue dragged on, but suddenly, that situation collapsed with the revelations the recordings.

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Dee:

    I'm really sorry about that. Not sure what happened. My work email is public information on the Contact Us page. I've just checked my email history and see no email from you. So try this way next time you have a concern.

    By the way, I wrote you a few days ago on the address given on your blog site, but haven't received a reply either. Maybe our computers are mutually blocking each other!

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  14. Mark

    I don't see the email so I will check the spam folder. I didn't contact you but I will do so now. I called the main number at CT and asked who I should speak to about getting an ethics statement for writers at CT. I believe I was connected with the voice mail of some sort of PR person.

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  15. I think Mark Galli should withdraw his comment about accusing you of being a false witness. Nothing in here is false. My qeustion to Mark is why did Ed say “Got a VW” in his Instagram in April 2018, he didn’t say it was a gift or even given to him? Why did it really take a year to pay back the $..why was it in March 2019 Ed “suddenly” decides hmmm I should look into where the $ came from for my bug? And why after all this time and its been proven Julie Roys has been right is she not given space or has anyone wrote an article to say James Macdonald lied about her?

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    1. Galli needs to answer these questions. Well said.

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  16. What's false is just the assumption that Ed tried to nefariously influence CT editorial--that's just completely wrong. That's all.

    I'm going to have to sign off from this conversation, because my job is putting other demands on me. I appreciate the push back and the evident desire for integrity in evangelical ministries. Here, I mainly wanted to clarify Ed's role (or better, non-role) in this whole episode. When it comes to his interactions with CT, he's always shown integrity. Blessing to all.

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    1. I really hope you still don't identify as Anglican. That would be embarrassing.

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. I just wrote and 'deleted' a 'rant' that was good for me to get out, but would have made miserable reading, which I could not let stand, hence the deletion.

    But I do ask this:

    By what claim does any self-acknowledged Christian person pick up the sacred Scriptures and use them to bully and abuse people?

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  19. Wow. Have lost respect for Mark Galli. Apparently he is unable to see the need for Christian leaders and journalists to be above reproach. He argues that, "
    In some situations, we invite people to respond theologically, like Andy Stanley did with OT. We told James he could NOT defend his situation, but only argue biblically about suing in general." But Galli's statement is false. MacDonald does defend his situation, as he makes several specific charges against the defendants being ('biblically') sued. Mark, apparently you know how to edit to run the magazine. Now you need to learn how to read.

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  20. Okay, I'm confused too.

    From Julie Roys post March 5, 2019 "Contributing editor for Christianity Today Faces Conflict of Interest Questions after Accepting Car from James MacDonald":


    "Also, a day after MacDonald and Weber’s conversation, Galli emailed me and asked “if there would be much interest on (my) part, or on the part of the aggrieved bloggers (the other defendants in the lawsuit) to participate in a reconciliation process.” Galli added that he had “been led to believe that Harvest may be open to this too.”"

    Julie Roys had not yet published her World Magazine story when she was sued, along with The Elephant Debts men and their wives.

    October 17, 2018 Lawsuit filed.
    October 30, 2018 Christianity Today wrote about the lawsuit.
    November 2, 2018 James MacDonald op-ed is published in Christianity Today.
    December 13, 2018 World Magazine article published.
    January 7, 2019 Lawsuit is dropped.
    February 12, 2019 Open mic recording of James MacDonald trashing Roys, CT, and CT staff aired by Mancow Muller.
    March 2019 Ed Stetzer pays Harvest Bible Chapel for car gifted in April 2018


    If I am understanding correctly between October 30, 2018 and November 2, 2019, Ed Stetzer connects MacDonald with CT. (See Mark Galli's comments above). In these same few days Mark Galli offers to facilitate for Julie Roys, Byrants and Mahoneys to reconcile with Harvest Bible Chapel. (See Roys quote above)

    I'm confused as to why an Editor-in-chief would be making this offer during a lawsuit. There is nothing neutral about this facilitation offer.
    Reconcile for what?
    They were dragged into court, Roys, the Bryants and Mahoneys were trashed and bullied and were the victims of a vindictive 'celebrity' leader.

    Roys was tied up legally and had a contract with another publication, so I can understand why she wasn't offered a rebuttal by Christianity Today in November 2018.
    But since the lawsuit was dropped?
    Crickets from CT.

    Mark Galli is an editor, not a pastor. Ed Stetzer is a pastor who was good friends with MacDonald and who has been in a professional relationship with Harvest as a pastor.

    I'm led to believe Christianity Today has many role blurred and too many lines crossed here.





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  21. It sounds like Galli might be using his position of influence to bully others into silence concerning Ed Stetzer. Kristen McKnight, Scot McKnight's wife, tweeted, "I was also told by Galli (via a phone call to my husband) that I was bearing false witness against Stetzer by questioning this debacle that you write about. Now I see that Galli uses this "false witness" claim with many others!" She also writes that, " I suggested to my husband that next time Galli can talk directly to me. Then I apologized to my husband for the fact that CT will no longer give his books any attention. Oh well, we can live with that." Good for the McKnights to hold onto their integrity rather than cave to bullying and pressure. The James Macdonald contagion continues to spread and work its damage.

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  22. What happened to the Mark Galli of truth and integrity? In 2018, he published a column with Christianity Today https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/march-web-only/sovereign-grace-need-investigation-sgm-mahaney-denhollander.html

    Here's a quote from Galli: "We call for this on behalf of potential victims who may have yet to be heard. And for the sake of SGC and for the integrity of evangelical churches everywhere. And especially for the sake of the gospel."

    Now, he's friends, buddies, or colleagues with Ed Stetzer, so he argues that it's not a problem for Ed to receive a car from person he later "connects" to the magazine? Galli gives a platform for public justification for an abusive, punitive lawsuit? Galli stamps out voices of questioning against him and his decisions? A prophetic voice now an enabler? I hope the soul of Christianity Today will recover from this period.

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  23. How quickly these days do some people with reputations fall into disrepute by consorting with the high and mighty famous types who are also disreputable.

    Once that reputation is gone, nothing else can buy it back.

    Talk about getting 'dragged down'. It's happening to a LOT of people these days.

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  24. "We told James he could NOT defend his situation, but only argue biblically about suing in genera"

    My impression as a reader reading the article was at the point where James mentioned the 'Elephant Debt' specifically, he moved beyond arguing biblically to defending his particular situation -- and I note Wade's specifics around what the article implied about Julie Roys are left unanswered.

    Additionally, there is a tension inherent in making such an argument while you are undertaking the same action -- its the kind of conflict of interest that would be called out in other publications.

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  25. Thank you, Pastor Burleson, for your discretion in calling attention to facts, without embellishment.
    They speak for themselves.

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  26. Chris E.

    Spot on.

    Anonymous (08:13),

    Thank you.

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  27. The impasse between Mark and Wade is unfortunate, but the situation is a textbook example of a form of quid pro quo (disclosure: I teach business ethics at a College). Many businesses forbid taking any gifts over a certain amount and are required to report such offer of a gift for fear that it could influence decisions or the decisions of others. Some industries are heavily regulated where these gifts are illegal, but other organizations have internal rules governing the receiving of gifts. Even if the gift giver is not asking for a specific favor, the possible downstream influence has ethical implications.

    As in this case, Ed Stetzer should not have taken the gift. Having been given the gift before becoming an editor, he should have disclosed the gift to CT and recused himself from all issues involving MacDonald including refusing to connect James with CT. Ed is right to return the money, but he violated commonly practiced ethical protections in this situation. His ethical violations are serious.

    I understand Mark's position; CT would still have published the article. However, the potential for quid pro quo is real and should be addressed by the leadership of CT. As well, CT should develop new ethical guidelines in dealing with gifts, disclosures, and potential quid pro quo situations in the future. It is unacceptable that CT sees nothing wrong with Ed's actions. I hope they seek an expert on Business Ethics, go through a thorough review of their guidelines, and develop better standards. Defending Ed is not the right first step; addressing ethical violations is.

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  28. Nobody here has recognized the good old boys attitude of Galli and his gang. Remember that Stetzer works at Wheaton, where if you're a woman of colour, you might not stay too long. Galli will gladly offer his magazine to MacDonald as he tries to intimidate a female journalist, and the wives of the men from the Elephant's Debt through the bullying lawsuit. In this thread, he offers to speak with a fellow man, Wade, but forget the women. He'll call a guy's wife to warn about the wife's actions but not call the woman herself. And remember that the key theologian consulted in all of this debacle was Wayne Grudem - not exactly a champion of women. So much contempt displayed against women.

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  29. Mark Galli....I can't help but see the same blindness in you that all Harvest Leadership exhibited during this ordeal. People/pastors don't just give cars away to those who can provide influence ...out of the kindness of their hearts. CT should apologize to Julie Roys for allowing Jmac to slander her in YOUR magazine. It was not even close to a biblical exegesis on Christian Lawsuits but rather one known Bully exhorting the Christian community to 'get this woman in line'.

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  30. Galli's defense of an obvious and overt quid pro quo by Stetzer is a bit scary. Especially in light of who we've learned MacDonald to really by. Roys is owed a very public apology by CT.

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  31. Anonymous wrote:

    " CT should apologize to Julie Roys for allowing Jmac to slander her in YOUR magazine. It was not even close to a biblical exegesis on Christian Lawsuits but rather one known Bully exhorting the Christian community to 'get this woman in line'."

    yes, a formal (and sincere) apology would be the decent thing to do, wouldn't it?

    Bullies are being praised to high heaven by a certain group of 'christians' on many levels, and this is just one more example . . . but in their praise of these monsters, these 'christians' are losing credibility big time

    and that is something they cannot easily repair, once people have seen them in the light of being toadies for bullies . . . nothing Christian about that, is there?

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  32. Thank you Pastor Burleson for calling for integrity in the SBC and at CT. The good old boy system is a disgrace to our faith.

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  33. Is this how Christianity works? Why is there no accountability? The secular is more civilized than Christians! And YOU want my to "Come To Faith In Jesus Christ?" ARE YOU SERIOUS? YOU ALL ARE HYPOCRITES!

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  34. Has nobody noticed that Mark Galli went into a full court press to protect Ed Stetzer (concerning a gift with monetary value from James MacDonald) right when MacDonald came back to Chicago to squeeze a couple million more out of HBC/WITW? What's the deal with Galli's extreme protectiveness over Stetzer? Is he saying it's OK for Stetzer to receive gifts because ... Galli also has had some back-and-forth through the years with MacDonald? Is there a MacDonald-gifted VW in Mark Galli's closet (or garage, literally)? Does Galli need to write a check to WITW, like Stetzer did? This whole business of protecting friends and exchanging influence for gifts needs to come to an end.

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  35. Galli said he would've published Julie's article as long as what she published was biblical. I'm curious to know if he thought the article James MacDonald had published, after buying a car for Ed using Church money, and then having Ed introduce him to CT which led to the publication of the article, was biblical? I'm also curious to know what Mark thinks about avoiding the appearance of impropriety. How does Mark truly think the general public should view all of these happy coincidences?

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  36. As a Southern Baptist woman who has been following the Wartburg Watch for several years, I am growing more and more disappointed with male leadership by the day. I earned a BA in Biblical Studies myself, and after I completed my studies I became more and more aware of the abusive ways in which Scripture is employed to manipulate and influence people. The cognitive dissonance is growing louder. I love my SB church, my pastor and my church family. National SB leadership should never have attained celebrity status. I'm just so over it.

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  37. Mark, just an idea - I think a simple remedy could come in one of two ways...1) An apology for printing MacDonald's piece without Roys having a chance to respond. 2) Give Roys an op-ed in the future. I think you can look impartial and remedy the situation.

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  38. CT is a total joke. Nothing new there. I've known that for many decades. Very sad that it's kept afloat by the sacrificial monthly contributions from good, but very gullible, Christians.

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  39. PASTOR Richard,

    It wouldn’t be bad at all if you’d said your 118 words in one comment, but it took FIVE in a period of 15 minutes.

    Do you like seeing your picture? Maybe you’re advertising coffee.

    Clicking on your name, shows you to be a guy I’d like to be around.

    If you reply to this, I hope you will do it in one comment. :)

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