Monday, March 23, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes...

Someone sent me the following last night -- a recent post from "Solomon's" blog. You may recall "Solomon" was a frequent commenter on this blog until about a year ago when he began painting all who disagreed with him as racists (huh?) and accused me and others of lying and wishing him harm, even going so far as to say he wondered if some of us wouldn't like to see him and his family "hit by a bus." No one to my knowledge has ever wished any harm to "Sol" or his family, much less said anything remotely resembling that. I've honestly not paid any attention to anything he has written since then, but I have to admit this made me sit up and take notice.

Daddy, I want to hear about Jesus...

That link no longer works since the article has been deleted, but this was the full text:

That's what one of my daughters said to me after church. "Daddy, can we go to another church next week? I'm tired of hearing about money. I want to hear about Jesus."

Frankly, I've been wondering the same thing. I remember when Steve Gaines first came to Bellevue, he said that every January would be "stewardship month". I took that to mean that at the first of every year the sermons would be about faithfulness with one's time, talents, and giftedness. And yet here we are halfway through March, and all of the sermons have been about money, and how real Christians give at least 10% of their earnings to the church.

A lot of sermons (not just by Steve) have rubbed me the wrong way, but last Sunday's was the first time in my life I felt like getting up and walking out on one. The "lesson" began with images of Bernie Madoff on the imag screen, and a quick summary of his corruptions. A direct correlation was drawn between this corrupt financier and Christians who do not recognize tithing as a mandate for Christians (apparently, even those who give more than 10%). As I was wondering if the pastor truly meant that Christians who don't tithe deserved to spend their lives in jail, Steve quickly added that it was illegal to drive a stolen car, and many of the cars on the Bellevue lot were stolen since they had been bought with money that was stolen from God if their owners did not tithe.

My own views of tithing notwithstanding, is this really a proper way to treat the members of Bellevue? We've put up with an awful lot of unnecessary adversity over the last few years, so don't we deserve something better than to be equated with Bernie Madoff? Isn't the "per capita" giving higher than it's ever been? Aren't we supporting the ministries of the church like never before? Why in the world should we be subjected to a beatdown like that?

"No," I told my little girl. "Just because the pastor is in a slump we aren't going to abandon Bellevue. The church is bigger than one man, even the pastor. Even if he abandons the Bible from now on and lectures and derides us about giving money to Bellevue each and every week of the year instead of preaching the gospel, unless the Lord leads us elsewhere we will still attend this church. Sunday mornings aren't about us, and if it is our lot to share God's word with those who are also discouraged by hearing week after week about money instead of Jesus, then we should accept this role joyfully."

My little girl agreed with me. I wish I was as sure of my words as she was.

Well, I was with him... until the last paragraph. Here his child is crying out to go to a church where she can hear about Jesus, and daddy says, "No, dear. The pastor is just in a slump, and we are going to stay -- even if he abandons the Bible from now on and lectures and derides us about giving money to Bellevue each and every week of the year instead of preaching the gospel." Good grief, man! What's the matter with you? It seems as if you're so loyal to "Bellevue" (whatever that means in your mind) that you are letting your children suffer. You're letting loyalty to a man and an institution trump your command as the spiritual leader of your family to make sure your children are taught Scripture (which I've no doubt they are at home), not to force them to listen to their parents berated and belittled and beat over the head week after week with demands to "give."

You said you weren't as sure of your words to your daughter as she was. Good! You shouldn't be sure of your words in this case because you're misguided, and I sincerely hope this means you're being convicted. Your "role" when you experience this type of spiritual abuse in the church is not to "joyfully accept it." Your role is to warn others and get yourself and your family the heck out of there! I realize change is difficult, but believe me, there is life outside of and after Bellevue.

"Solomon" also wrote an interesting article about the now-defunct i2Memphis. (He has now deleted it. See here.)

He wrote, "My perspective [about i2Memphis] abruptly changed when my oldest daughter, recently turned 13, asked if she could go one night. I told her absolutely not, and asked why in the world she'd ever want to go to a meeting with college students and single adults. Her response was that lots of middle and high school students were going.

Errr... so you already knew about the drinking and sex in the restrooms, but it took your 13-year-old daughter asking to go to jolt you into reality?

He continues, "I was shocked, stunned, and I was scared to death. I couldn't believe that the church would actually allow children into an emotionally charged environment where they were possibly exposed to drinking and maybe even sex."

Why would a church create such an "emotionally charged" environment at all?

Then he asks, "Why on earth was this monster ever dreamed up in the first place?"

Good question. Why, indeed. An even better question might be, "Why would you allow your family to remain in an environment where such things would be allowed to happen in the first place?" Obviously the people who dream up these ridiculous programs are not the types of "spiritual leaders" I would want leading me or my children. Why would you stay in a church that could create that kind of environment and subject your children to it? After all, this isn't the only church event we've heard about where drinking was involved.

Not to dwell on "Solomon," but I can't help but be reminded of this exchange from a couple of years ago.

In a comment on this blog he wrote in response to seeing David Brown on the news discussing, not Bellevue, but the issue of the SBC's refusal to keep a database of convicted and credibly accused sexual predator "ministers."

Quotes from the above comment:

"For the record, I do not want Gaines to be pastor and I am not defending him. Frankly, as a father, such a crime [speaking of Paul Williams] is unimaginable and makes me sick to my stomach. Even though the minister came to him [Gaines] with his wife (the victim's own mother) and gave every appearance of peaceful resolution, it's beyond me how SG could even work alongside someone who'd do something like that, much less keep him on staff."


"I was at a circuit city, and the story came on the news about your [David Brown's] 'attack' on the SBC. My wife and daughter started crying to see our church on TV like that. My 10 year old asked if we'd have any more picnics there. My 9 year old asked who that awful man was who was mad at us (it was you). Is that what you want?"

I think people should have been a lot more concerned about Steve Gaines letting a confessed child molester/known sexual predator roam the halls of BBC for six months than the fact that David Brown was shedding light on the issue of sexual predators in the SBC and the leaders of the SBC (Steve Gaines included) turning a blind eye to it or having picnics at the church.

It's been interesting to me over the past three years what has been different people's "last straw." For some it was the way the pulpit committee "chose" Steve Gaines and basically shoved him down people's throats with no "trial period" or ever bringing in any other candidate. For some it was the reports of the new pastor's excessive salary and benefits. For some it was the fence-climbing "incident," the "information meeting" and SG's description of the "itty bitty fence," belittling his congregation at another church, the "communication committee" meetings, covering for Paul Williams for six months, SG's treatment of the victim, the 2007 "monkey business" meeting, the sheep-beating sermons, witnessing their 15-year-old daughter dragged out of a service, handcuffed, and cussed at by a church security guard, or yes, even the change in the music for some. It seems nearly everyone who left had a breaking point. A more recent group exited when they changed the church's mission statement. Amazing to me after everything else that would be the last straw for anyone, but to each his own.

"Solomon" seems like an intelligent man who cares deeply about his family and his church. I'm not trying to beat up on "Sol." He just made me think. The question I would pose to all of us is which is the most important? Hanging on to tradition and remaining "true" to an institution that will never be the same or getting off your blessed assurance and moving to a place where you and your family will be fed? If you can stay where you are and accomplish both, you are probably already in the right place. If not, it may be time to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance. Who knows? His guidance just may come through the voice of a little girl.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Become a megachurch pastor... see the world!

When someone asked Steve Gaines why he doesn't preach on Wednesday nights this was his response. I suppose his reasons fly out the door when he's busy preaching at other churches.

This was the answer the "Communication Committee" gave:

Why doesn't Dr. Gaines preach on Wednesday nights?

"Because our congregation is quite large, Dr. Gaines has chosen Wednesday nights to attend committee meetings, meet various church groups, and attend a variety of church events in order to meet as many people as possible. Dr. Gaines also encourages us to hold all committee meetings on Wednesdays and Sundays to allow members to spend more time during the week with their families. Does Dr. Gaines preach any other time besides Sunday? Yes. Currently, he preaches to men at Morning Manna, Thursdays at 6:30 a.m., and to 18-29-year-olds at i2 Memphis, Thursdays at 7:00 p.m."

Morning Manna meets maybe 4 months out of the year -- one morning a week. I2Memphis is defunct.

I remember the excuse reason given 2 1/2 years ago was that those speaking engagements were already scheduled before he came to Bellevue. Fair enough. (So I guess it was okay with the people of Gardendale that they were being taken advantage of, too.) Now here we are 2 1/2 years later. Are you telling me all these speaking engagements for 2009 were scheduled that long ago?

Speaking of "meeting as many people as possible," do they even have visitation at Bellevue? It's a serious question. After all the times I visited Bellevue and filled out visitor's cards, not once was I ever contacted by the church in any way. Not before joining and not after, not by a Sunday School teacher or deacon, not by phone call, letter, or e-mail. (Which I'm sure begs the question, "Why did you join?" Let's just say it wasn't because of the friendliness of the people. But this isn't about me.)

Oh, did everyone receive their automated phone message from "Brother Steve" last night reminding everyone to set their clocks forward? I listened to the whole thing and about dropped the phone laughing when Steve said, "Donna and I love you very much." I've spoken with Steve Gaines face to face. As someone else said about his experience, the whole time it's as if he's looking over your head to see if someone more important is waiting. That was certainly the impression I got, too, but I digress.

Now you can add a Wednesday night this month to the list. Steve Gaines will be preaching at
Valley View Church in Louisville, KY, a church with the reputation of being one of the most seeker-sensitive PD churches in the area.

He didn't preach at Bellevue this morning. The pulpit was filled by Russell Moore of SBTS, and there's another speaker tonight. So once again, Steve's being paid to be... where? Preaching at another church while your church pays another preacher to preach at yours? Can you say "double dipping"?

On another cruise? This was a recent cruise on which Steve Gaines was a speaker.

On another tour? Here is but one example.

Or is he on another "mission trip"? A few weeks ago the whole Gaines family was touring the Holy Land. Before that the oldest Gaines daughter and husband Ryan Wingo were in Morocco. Are you telling me Bellevue pays a music assistant who's barely out of college enough to afford a trip like that? There was the much-publicized India trip in 2007, the one the Commercial Appeal covered with an 8-page
spread complete with photos of the Bellevue women yucking it up in their Indian finery. Someone commented to me recently that if one is not wealthy but desires to travel, one should become a Baptist minister, marry a Baptist minister, be born to a Baptist minister, or be friends with a Baptist minister so they can travel the world.

Recently the Gaines family traveled to Honduras, reportedly just so that Steve could preside at the ordination ceremony of a pastor there. Did the church pay his way for this trip? Did they pay his family's way?

Have you ever noticed how these Baptist men and women are always beautiful, well-groomed, and clean, often dressed in native costumes, in the photos of them on their "mission trips"? Then ask yourself, was Lottie Moon or Mother Teresa clean and pretty in her photos? Was anyone even there to take photos? Or did these women stop long enough to be photographed? Most Baptists don't know what the heck a "mission trip" is. They often stay in 4-star hotels at night or at least "in high style" compared to the people they're "ministering" to. They eat food specially prepared for them. Why should churches foot the bill for preachers and their families and friends to see the world just because they call it a "mission trip"? What is wrong with this picture?

There are plenty of faithful, loving pastors who do not fleece their congregations. They are right there in the trenches, preaching, visiting, caring for their people week in and week out. I salute them. Then there are the others, the ones who seem to view the pastorate as little more than a chance to enrich themselves (speaking at each others' churches and at the seminaries for thousands of $$$, book deals, selling sermons, making thousands in profits from tours, etc.) and to benefit their families and friends. It's not a pretty sight.