Thursday, February 26, 2009

This is the "Biblical Pattern" for Church Discipline?

Many of you have probably been following the events at FBC Jacksonville (FL) the past few months. While neither time nor space permits me to repeat the whole sordid story here, it's well-documented elsewhere.

Donald "Mac" Brunson has been their pastor for about three years, coming there from FBC Dallas where he'd just lead that church into an aggressive building program soon after which he went to Jax and left FBC Dallas millions of dollars in debt.

By most accounts, Dr. Brunson was welcomed with open arms at FBC Jax, but it didn't take long for the red flags to start flying. Here is a list of church members' concerns.

FBC Jax members, after being met by brick walls when they tried to approach the pastor with their questions (sound familiar?), started a
blog to communicate their concerns. This is the second or third incarnation of their blog but by far the most long-lived and most read. Longtime members have been told, "If you don't like it, leave." (Hmmm... where have I heard that before?)

Mac Brunson has delivered a number of "sheep-beating" sermons that have rivaled some of Steve Gaines' beauties. In an audio interview last year he referred to bloggers as nothing more than "women gossiping in a beauty shop." (Note how these guys seem to think the ultimate insult they can hurl at someone is to compare him to a woman. Have you ever heard them compare people to "men gossiping in a barber shop"?) On the other hand, Mac has stated on other occasions that he doesn't read the blogs.

Apparently the FBC Jax Watchdog blog is being read by a lot of people and not just people from Jacksonville. It's attracting readers nationwide (and a few international). Attendance and giving are down at FBC Jax, much like at Bellevue. People are seeing the abuses of Mac Brunson, and many have left. Whether the blog has played much of a role in that is unknown, but Mac's not happy.

So... in an effort to intimidate the bloggers and other members, the leadership of the church somehow came to the dubious conclusion that a specific man owned and operated the blog, and they set their sights on him. According to an anonymous comment he posted on the Watchdog's blog, two men showed up at his door the day before Thanksgiving and presented him with a
letter which listed his "transgressions" along with trespass warnings against the man and his wife. Her "transgression"? Apparently she committed the sin of "associating with" the accused blogger.

All the details can be read on the
FBC Jax Watchdog blog in a series of articles beginning in early December 2008. The church's bylaws were covertly changed a year earlier to concentrate power in the hands of the pastor and trustees. A "discipline committee" appointed and controlled by the pastor was included.

The targeted man and his wife have since moved on to another church and want nothing more to do with FBC Jax, but did that stop Mac and his minions? After all, their stated purpose was to meet with the man and his wife for "reconciliation and restoration." If the couple has left the church, what's there to reconcile or restore?

Fast forward to Wednesday night, February 25th. FBC Jax was called into a business meeting, and a
resolution was read to the few hundred people present. There was no discussion, and an immediate vote was called. Well, it wasn't really a vote per se as in "all in favor stand, now those opposed stand," but rather the moderator stated, "Ladies and gentlemen, you've heard the motion. Is there a second? {someone seconded the motion} I would appreciate it if you would approve this motion by standing. {pauses while most of congregation stands} Thank you very much. The motion carries. That will conclude our business meeting." Hello?!

Watch the video here.

There were clearly some people who remained seated. If they'd had a secret ballot I'm sure many more would have voted their consciences rather than going along with the crowd. You can bet the names of those courageous members who did remain seated were duly noted, and their invitations to meet with the "discipline committee" will likely be delivered to their doorsteps soon.

This whole fiasco raises a number of questions in my mind. I don't know Mr. Soud, chairman of the FBC Jax trustees, from Adam. Never heard of him until the recent chatter on the Watchdog's blog. He may very well be "well-respected" in the Jacksonville community, but I've come to realize that "well-respected" is often just a code word for "rich" -- regardless of how someone arrived. There are lots of "well-respected men in the community" at Bellevue who've exhibited similar behavior and worse. Bellevue was just a year or so ahead of Jacksonville in this process so we got to see it sooner. He did not appear to be comfortable up there and didn't impress me at all. It's been my observation that when these guys are, shall we say, "embellishing" something that they "uh" and "um" and "ah" and trip all over their tongues. You heard that with Mr. Soud in the video above. We've seen it with Steve Gaines and Paige Patterson. These guys are veteran public speakers, and when they're comfortable and being truthful they're smooth as silk, but when they're not they fall apart.

I know nothing of Mr. Soud's reputation as a judge, but if he will go along with this charade, if he will stand in the pulpit of a church and lie through his teeth, it makes me think there is more than meets the eye and that perhaps he could have sometimes been "influenced" in his role as a judge, too. Of course, that's just my impression.

The deacon chairman looked like a sad, beaten-down man who would rather not have been there, but by golly he's going to go along to keep his position and the "prestige" it carries with it. His humble demeanor while carrying out the "vote" only made him appear gutless. "I would appreciate it if you would approve this motion by standing. {pauses while most of congregation stands} Thank you very much. The motion carries." LOL! Hey, that's how they vote at Bellevue, too! No secret ballots, no call for "Nays," just "All in favor please stand. Thank you. The motion carries." Robert must be spinning in his grave. They know most of the sheeple aren't going to rock the boat though, and by having a standing vote, peer pressure alone and the desire not to stand out will bring people to their feet for anything. Every time they successfully ram through something like this they only become more emboldened.

What I cannot get over is Jim Whitmire's going along with all this. (You can see him clearly standing in the photo of the vote above. Dressed in brown, he's standing on the right side of the platform. That means he was voting for the resolution.) His story about the shepherd leaving the "ninety and nine" sheep and going after the one who was lost was quite ironic given the fact FBC Jax's shepherd and his shepherd boys had just figuratively shoved one of their sheep off the cliff. How can Jim stand at Mac Brunson's side, even call him the finest preacher he's ever heard (for a man who sat under Adrian Rogers for over 30 years, that's laughable), and go along with all this? Zipping up the bubble and insulating yourself doesn't cut it because by your silence and your remaining there and standing at Mac's side, you ARE tacitly going along with all of it. You would think after his deplorable treatment at the hands of Steve Gaines and Bellevue that Jim Whitmire, of all people, would see Mac Brunson for the abusive charlatan he is. Is an attractive salary and a bayfront condo really worth it?

Speaking of Mac, I noticed he was conspicuously absent from the meeting where the resolution was read. So typical. He lets other people do his dirty work.

Regardless of the fact that business meeting was a total sham, one thing I noticed was FBC Jax apparently still has monthly business meetings. Bellevue's bylaws (written in 1929, they're one page long and have never been changed) also call for monthly business meetings, but hey, bylaws schmylaws, we don't care! All they have now is an annual business meeting on a Sunday morning evening at the conclusion of a very long worship service. Last year over half the people walked out before it started. In 2007 they killed the mics and shut down the meeting when people were still lined up to speak. Last year only two people had the courage to ask questions, and both were quickly dismissed.

Something else that jumped out at me was that the trustees approved this thing on February 18th. According to the e-mails Watchdog posted on Monday, the accused man was still corresponding with John Blount (one of the FBC Jax staff ministers) two days after February 18th, trying to work out arrangements so he could speak to the deacons at their meeting on the 23rd and defend himself against what he claimed were false and baseless allegations. So it's obvious to me they'd already made up their minds and had no intention of meeting with him or letting him defend himself. This thing had been written, signed, sealed, and in the bag and was ready to be delivered to the deacons while Blount was still telling the man he could address the deacon body.

Oops! Busted!!! What a sham! These guys are like criminals. Sometimes they can be quite clever, but they're never very bright.

Also, why did they not mention the accused man's name? Fear of getting their collective pants sued off because they targeted the wrong person? If this weren't so pathetic it would almost be comical.

February 25, 2009 brought an absolutely disgusting display of deplorable (but not surprising) behavior by men who've lost their consciences. For anyone who attended Bellevue's 2007 "business meeting" this was déjà vu all over again. While I was watching it my first thought was I wouldn't want to be standing anywhere near Mr. Soud because there just might be a lightning bolt with his name on it. From the way his eyes were darting around while he was reading, I wondered if that thought hadn't crossed his mind as well.

Is this what is meant by the "biblical pattern of church discipline"? It's a pattern of something all right, but "biblical" it ain't!