Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Two-Day Oprah Show Event: 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward

On November 5th and 12th, a two-part Oprah Winfrey episode will air which deals with the subject of child sexual abuse of males.

Watch the preview.

Read the comments.

David Brown, who was in the audience for the taping, says...

When Oprah read our emails detailing our stories of our abuse she was moved to make two shows on the subject. Understand this is NOT just about clergy abuse but child sexual abuse of males. Tyler Perry (abuse victim himself and 2nd highest paid person in Hollywood) is co-host. This is a very emotional subject and the fact they could get 200 men to stand as one voice in speaking about child sexual abuse is so awesome.

I know many will not be interested but let me beg you to watch. Have you ever seen 200 men in tears? You will on the 5th and the 12th. If you know of anyone that was abused as child you must watch.

One in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused in America TODAY!! There are 39 million victims of child sexual abuse in America. Those are very real numbers. There are over 600,000 convicted, admitted, credibly accused pedophiles in America. Over half that number swear, state, vow they attend church regularly.

This crime is not going away. And please do not think that it will never happen to your family. It may already have. The shows tell you how to look for those signs of abuse and how to deal with them.

This is not a crime in the past but of the present and future. Unfortunately there was so much shame that we have remained silent for way too long. It was 35 years before I began to deal with my abuse and yet another 9 years before I could really speak about it. Please watch these shows, not for me but for your families. And if you suspect someone you love or know is a victim call me at (901)569-4500. There is help available. They do not have to endure this crime alone.

Help is also available from any regional office of S.N.A.P.

Read the account of another man who was there for the taping.

In the Memphis market The Oprah Winfrey Show airs on WMC-TV Channel 5 at 4:00 p.m. In other areas please check your local listings for channel and time.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Calvary Chapel ®: Church or Cult?

There has been a lot of talk in the blog world about the "cults" of Mormonism and Catholicism. I've not weighed in on those topics as I really have nothing to add to the discussion right now, but this got me to thinking about other churches that seem cult-like as well. One is the Calvary Chapel ® churches. (Yes, the name is copyrighted.) They don't call themselves a "denomination" but rather a "movement" or a "fellowship of churches."

Founded in Costa Mesa, California in 1965 by Chuck Smith, today there are well over 1000 CC churches around the world. Most have retained the name "Calvary Chapel," but some have adopted such names as "Calvary Fellowship" and other non-denominational-sounding monikers.

On the surface, their teachings seem somewhat in line with those of Baptists and other mainstream Protestant churches, but scratch below the surface and you will find more significant differences. Actually, their What We Believe page seems rather vague, almost like a "we'll make it up as we go" philosophy. To get a better understanding of what they believe it's necessary to delve into Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel Distinctives.

Chuck Smith proved himself to be a false prophet when he predicted the world would end in 1981. This was documented in his 1978 book,
End Times: A Report on Future Survival.

One of the most frequent criticisms of CC churches is the man-centered, authoritarian structure which places the pastor as THE large-and-in-charge, don't-question-my-authority boss.

In 2007 Christianity Today published
this informative article about Calvary Chapel.

An earlier CT story chronicled the problems with an authoritarian CC pastor in New Mexico.

Nepotism is alive and well in the CC system, too. Chuck Smith, Jr. has had his own issues.

Los Angeles Times >> Father, Son and Holy Rift

There are tales of abuse, both physical and sexual, allegedly being covered up by the leaders of CC. Here is the story of two brothers' accusations of cover-up of physical abuse:

OC Weekly >> Is Calvary Chapel Head Chuck Smith Covering for a Child Beater?

The allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups are numerous. For those readers who are interested, just Google the subject. Someone could start a new blog just to cover the stories coming out of this one denomination... uh... movement. People have asked Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators why she concentrates primarily on Southern Baptist offenders. The fact is, just keeping track of those in the SBC is a full-time job (which the SBC still refuses to do).

There are numerous discussion boards where people have told their stories of "escape" from what many describe as a cult or at least a cultish organization. Here are but a few: Discussion of the Christianity Today article.

Whore Church >> Calvary Chapel: How Long Before It's a Cult?

Destructive Churches >> Calvary Chapel Cult??

Other Calvary Chapel "Cult" Links

On a personal note, I've personally known only a handful of people who were CC members. While some may have been a bit eccentric to begin with, most of the "nuttiness" stemmed from their association with CC. When they weren't talking about their church you wouldn't know they were different from anyone else, but they made it crystal clear that if you weren't part of "the" church (CC) you were somehow beneath them. Reading some of the comments on the above links about CC members being "cliquish" and thinking CC is the only "real" church certainly described my admittedly limited experiences with them.

Here is one more (long) article written by a now-reformed former CC member. I don't agree with all points of reformed theology, but I found it very informative.

Other than a few theological differences, I see little difference between CC churches and the SBC. In both, individual churches are considered autonomous. Baptism is by immersion. Nepotism lives. Abuse is covered up. And many of the pastors are authoritarian.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Dr. Danny Akin, president of SEBTS, preached at Bellevue on August 4th, kicking off the first week of "Awesome August." Dr. Ergun Caner was originally scheduled to preach on the 4th, but with his recent issues he seems to be keeping a low profile.

Dr. Akin preached a very good sermon, seemingly without the need to "embellish" anything.

Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican primary gubernatorial candidate, was in attendance, as was bluegrass and country singer and string player, Ricky Skaggs, who campaigned for Wamp. (Wamp lost in the August 5th primary. Ron Ramsey, another failed Republican gubernatorial candidate, attended a service at Bellevue Sunday morning.)

Ricky sang during the service, and at the end of the service, Steve got him up on stage to "sing with me." In the end Steve gets Ricky's guitar tuner... and a little something more!

This is what ensued. Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The line blurs again...

... between the church and crass commercialization. VeggieTales Live!, a quasi-religious version of stage shows such as the popular and profitable Sesame Street Live is coming to Bellevue Baptist Church on October 26, 2010. Showtimes will be at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and tickets are $25 for "Gold Circle" seats or $15 for general admission.

Let the silliness begin continue!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bellevue says 'you're out,' gay softball coach claims.

Click on title for link to Commercial Appeal article.

I'm quickly throwing this together now so people can discuss it if they want. I want to finish reading through the comments on the Commercial Appeal's site and will post some links and further commentary later.

Update: Since I have neither the time nor the desire to read 2000+ comments, here is the follow-up article. Steve Gaines' public statement (the unedited version) is below.

Commercial Appeal >> June 23, 2010 >> Ousting gay coach necessary, Bellevue Baptist pastor says

Steve Gaines Speaks

I don't think this would have ever been an issue if someone hadn't, as indicated in the article, tipped off the church, perhaps someone who knows her or assumed she's gay based solely upon her appearance. The latter is a terribly slippery slope down which no one should be going. Besides, I saw her on the news, and her appearance didn't "scream" anything to me. She is simply, as she describes herself, athletic in appearance.

I've even wondered if there wasn't some threat against the church involved. For example, "You're letting this softball team with a gay coach play on your fields. If you don't tell her she's not welcome, we'll go public with this." If that was the case, how'd that work out, guys? Of course I don't know if that happened or not and am not suggesting it did, just wondering.

I don't think we've heard the whole story by any means. To say the "no PDA" rule prohibits gay people from playing on softball teams seems rather lame. As one CA commenter asked, "Were they having orgies on the mound when someone hit a home run?" It doesn't seem likely that was the issue, rather an excuse.

I can sort of see where the church was stuck in the middle on this one. It was a no-win situation if someone were threatening to "out" her (which apparently someone did).

However, Bellevue created these potential problems when they opened the fields up to outside teams. Just like they created the annual "Celebrate America" (excuse me) "Starlight Spectacular" monster when they invited the whole community, then wondered why they had to close the building after they found people making out inside and climbing onto the roof and had to spend the next day cleaning cigarette butts, beer bottles, cans, and trash off the grounds.

This certainly doesn't help Bellevue's witness to the Memphis they claim to "LO♥E" so much and their "God Loves You Just the Way You Are" campaign. I guess it's okay to come as long as you don't come out. But for heavens sake, they need to clean up their own house first! If a fraction of the stories I've heard are true, Bellevue has a LOT of housecleaning to do.

I'm not condoning homosexual behavior either, but apparently if you go to BBC and are "just" an adulterer, fornicator, child molester, drug addict, rapist, felon, liar, or stay in the closet, that's okay. Just don't touch alcohol or openly associate with a gay person.

Bellevue has forever blown any opportunity to be a witness not only to this woman but to her teammates and much of the rest of the community. Actually, based upon the comments I've read so far it seems the ridiculous mishandling of the Paul Williams situation already did irreparable damage to Bellevue's reputation in the eyes of many.

Oh, wait. I think I've got it! Maybe the church's defense can be this is what they meant by the "no smoking" rule.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Of Marathons, Imaginary Twins, Misquotes, and Embellishments

When does a mistake of the mind become a mistake of the heart?

In both morning services Sunday, May 2nd, Steve Gaines used a sermon illustration about a sensational "church fight" he claimed occurred in a Wichita, Kansas church. Here are the links to the videos of both versions. Please watch both (transcripts provided below each link) before reading further. Be sure to listen to the part following the story if you want to hear his definition of "troublemakers" and what he thinks of them ("us"?).


A couple of years ago... I read a story about a church in Wichita, Kansas. It seemed that four of the church members wanted their pastor to resign. I had a guy ask me... years ago, "How... how in the... ," he... he was of another denomination... he said, "How is it that you Baptists change pastors?" I said, "One of two ways, the movement of the Spirit or the push of the brethren. Hahaha!" {laughter}

So these four people were tired of their pastor... and they wanted him to leave, but the pastor said, "I'm not gonna do it. God called me here. I'm gonna stay here as long as God wants me to." So they decided to take matters in their own hands. And they began to literally disrupt the worship services. One Sunday they literally ran... through the sanctuary shouting... while the preacher was trying to preach his sermon. They shut the pastor's Bible while he was preaching. You know, I'd be afraid to do... I'd be... I'd be afraid that God would... blow me up. They even took the pastor's microphone away from him and banged him on the head with it. They knocked the pianist off her bench and held her to the floor. They kept doing it week after week and nobody would stop them because they said... , "God's a God of love." They went from 600 in attendance to 50. The pastor finally resigned.


Several years ago I read about a church... true story... in Wichita, Kansas. Four of the church members wanted the pastor to resign, he didn't want to resign, and the battle began. Somebody asked me, years ago... and... they were... they were of a different denomination, "How do you Baptists change pastors? I mean, what... what's the procedure there? Is it... what... what... what's the process?" I said, "Well, Baptist pastors leave a church for one of two reasons... the movement of the Holy Spirit or the push of the brethren. Hahahaha. One of the two."

Well, these people wanted him to leave. The push of the brethren was goin' on here. And he said, "I'm not gonna do it," so they began literally to disrupt the church services. Can you imagine... being..... ? Can you imagine? I don't even know what word to say! One Sunday they literally... it got so bad... ran through the sanctuary shouting while the preacher was trying to preach his sermon. They went up on the pulpit and shut the pastor's Bible. They even took his microphone and banged him in the head with it! They knocked the pianist off her bench and held her on the floor and would not let her play... any more worship songs. And they kept doing this week after week, and nobody would do anything! And they went from 600 to 50, and finally the pastor resigned.

One would think after the Nashville marathon debaucle, the Joan Rivers' "twin" story, and just three days later attributing a quote to Abraham Lincoln which is well-documented as having not come from Abraham Lincoln, that Steve Gaines would be more careful about confirming the veracity of his sermon illustrations before delivering them from the pulpit/music stand. I suppose it really is true what they say. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The problem is the stories in these two video clips contained only a tiny grain of truth. And I mean a very tiny grain. Namely, that the church is in Wichita, Kansas, and that "four members" were involved at one point. Beyond that, unless there is a story about a different Wichita, Kansas church with some eerily similar-sounding details, as far as I can tell this story was fabricated to illustrate a point about... taa daaaaa... "troublemakers in the church!" That's been a recurring theme in a number of SG's sermons over the past 3-4 years. Apparently the man thinks he and Bellevue Baptist Church are being persecuted and under attack. In fact, he recently wrote an article on his blog about how Christians "will be" persecuted.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-12) that we are "blessed" when people insult and persecute us. If we live Spirit-filled, separated, holy, prayerful lives, the devil will see to it that the world harasses us. If the world hated Jesus, it will hate us as well.

While not the subject of this post, I'm pretty sure neither Steve Gaines nor the vast majority of the rest of us has any idea whatsoever what "persecution" is. We sit in our air-conditioned and heated homes and offices, drive our cars and trucks on paved roads, have everything we need in the way of food, clean water, clothes, and a lot of other creature comforts. We're free to worship and demonstrate our faith openly, and few, if any of us, have ever been "persecuted," harrassed, arrested, tortured, or put in physical danger simply for being Christians in the U.S.A. So please excuse me a second while I finish playing my tiny violin.

I'm tired of hearing how we Christians in America are being "persecuted" because, in the words of the late former Texas governor, Ann Richards (fact-checked!), "that old dog won't hunt."

Gleaned from the sources I was able to find online, this seems to be the story that was the inspiration for Steve's story. The church in question is Reformation Lutheran Church. It is in Wichita, Kansas. And they've certainly had their share of problems. However, the "troublemakers" were not members of that church nor was it ever the troublemakers' goal, from any account I've read, to "get rid of the preacher."

You may recall the story of the death of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few (openly) late-term abortion doctors in the country. You can read more about Tiller here and here. Tiller was shot to death inside the church where he and his wife were members one Sunday morning in May 2009. The church was Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. Members of Operation Rescue and others regularly protested outside RLC. Protesters entered the church on more than one occasion and tried to disrupt services. (Note: These were not necessarily members of Operation Rescue.)

Their point was that by allowing Tiller and his wife (who managed his clinic) to remain members, participate in communion, etc. without seeming to care what they were doing Monday through Friday and certainly without any public disapproval, the leadership of RLC was neglecting their duty to discipline and restore or, failing that, to "excommunicate" the Tillers. For the record, I agree, not with their means but certainly with their motives. If nothing else, the leadership was putting all the other members in physical danger by continuing to let him attend. I do not condone bombing buildings or shooting abortion doctors. It only steels the resolve of the "pro-choice" (an oxymoron if there ever was) people and makes reasonable pro-life people look like nuts. Now, is the world a better place without Tiller still doing his "work"? Absolutely! But that's not what this post is about either... although that's fodder for discussion if anyone's interested.

In spite of his clinic being bombed in 1986 and Tiller being shot in both arms in 1993, he was soon back on the job. And that is what the "troublemakers" were trying to change. They wanted Reformation Lutheran Church to practice some good old-fashioned church discipline on their member, Dr. George Tiller. If ever there was a case for church discipline, this was it, but for whatever reasons, the church chose not to "excommunicate" Tiller, and frankly, even if they did "excommunicate" him, I don't see how that would have saved the life of even one baby. After all, Tiller was not performing abortions at the church. Kicking him out of the church wouldn't have stopped him from continuing to perform abortions. Apparently he'd already been kicked out of another church (Holy Cross Lutheran). RLC continued to allow him and his wife to attend and participate. Tiller was an usher and was passing out bulletins outside the sanctuary the Sunday morning he was gunned down by Scott Roeder. His wife was in the choir.

According to trial testimony by RLC member and usher, Keith Martin, there had been several incidents of non-member, anti-abortion protesters disrupting services.

Church usher Keith Martin testified Monday that he saw Roeder at the church a half dozen times before the shooting. Unlike other churchgoers, Roeder always brought his own Bible and sat by himself, Martin said.

Martin also testified that anti-abortion protests at the church over the years made members suspicious of newcomers even before the shooting. Tiller, whose Wichita clinic closed after his death, championed abortion rights even after being shot in both arms by an activist in 1993.

At times, visitors had stood up in the congregation and started shouting, Martin said. Some even tried to take over the microphone, he said, and someone once tried to push a pianist off the stool.

Still, Martin said, he didn't closely watch Roeder the day Tiller was shot because he had seen Roeder at previous services and that he had behaved peacefully.

Kristin Neitzel, a pastor at the church, testified that Roeder briefly attended the church's special Saturday service the evening before the shooting, and that some church members had become suspicious of him because he had been asking a lot of questions.

So there's your attempt to take over the microphone (no mention of it being the preacher's mic or anyone being "banged" over the head with it) and someone attempting to push "a" pianist off a stool. Church members were not the "troublemakers." Remember, this was the report of sworn testimony in a court of law.

According to this article (and others) two men from Arizona, one an ordained minister of some stripe, Rev. Henry "Bud" Shaver, traveled to Wichita and "visited" Reformation Lutheran one Sunday morning in July 2007 (almost two years before Tiller was killed). Shaver found an open mic and disrupted the service by reading from a portion of Isaiah 1 written on a scrap of paper -- "Isaiah's warning to believers." The article didn't say if Shaver had written a personal statement on the paper from which he was reading. According to the article, several members of the church tried to shut off his mic (not the preacher's) and grab the piece of paper from his hand.

Remember, Steve said the troublemakers, whom we now know were not church members at all, grabbed the preacher's mic, "banged" him on the head with it, closed his Bible, and "knocked the pianist from her bench, held her on the floor, and wouldn't let her play any more worship songs." Whether this was the same day protesters merely "attempted" to push a pianist off the bench is unknown. It wasn't mentioned in any of the articles about this particular incident, only in Martin's testimony. Shaver apparently refused to be quiet and was then escorted from the building.

Shaver's associate, Joey Cox, when communion was given and the pastor, Thomas Hallstrom, said, "Receive the body of Christ," handed the bread back to Hallstrom saying that it did not represent the body of Christ but rather the bodies of babies killed by abortion doctor, George Tiller.

Four men (I guess that's where Steve got the number four) were said to have then escorted Cox from the building.

Hallstrom called the police (perhaps this was an overreaction unless the men were trying to reenter the building or had threatened to harm Hallstrom or someone else) and Shaver and Cox were apprehended at a nearby gas station and arrested. They were charged with "rude and indecent behavior in a place of worship" and spent 7 hours in jail. I've not found the outcome of the case.

According to Reformation's history, Hallstrom was pastor from October 2002 through October 2007. He is currently serving as interim pastor of another Lutheran church in Kansas. There's no indication I can find that the members were clamoring for him to leave. His wife is still listed as organist on Reformation's website (which could be old information). Believe it or not, preachers in all denominations do leave churches for reasons besides "the movement of the Holy Spirit or the push of the brethren."

Some retire or die, some leave churches or the ministry all together because of health or family situations, some head for greener pastures (i.e. more money and/or prestige), churches fold, churches merge, and in some denominations a governing board or other hierarchy appoints pastors/priests and moves them around frequently. Occasionally one even goes to prison. (See Darrell Gilyard and the rogues gallery here.) So let's not assume that the poor beleaguered pastor is always led by the Holy Spirit or forced out by troublemakers. That dog won't hunt either.

As for church attendance, I have no source for attendance numbers for RLC, nor at this point is it even relevant, but I can see how witnessing someone shot to death inside your church building could make some a bit squeamish about returning. So I imagine they did lose some members. Still, there's no indication, if attendance dropped, that it had anything to do with then-pastor, Thomas Hallstrom.

Look, I am as anti-abortion as they come, BUT this was neither the time nor the place for such a demonstration. That is NOT how you change people's hearts, and that's what is going to be necessary to end abortion in this country. You don't pound people and soften their hearts about spiritual matters by YELLING AT THEM AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS! (I'm looking at you, Steve.) You work to change their hearts. That doesn't mean you condone sin or indefinitely tolerate unrepentance, but what works for a drill sergeant or football coach isn't going to work on the average pew-warmer.

I've no doubt all this attention only caused the members of RLC to circle the wagons to support Tiller (much like the Baptist Identity bunch is circling the wagons to defend a certain Baptist seminary president right now). Many members of RLC may not have agreed with what Tiller was doing, but he was one of their own, and they must have thought they were under attack.

Now, I ask you, how different is that from the story Steve Gaines told? What are the chances that there just happen to be two churches, both in Wichita, Kansas, where "troublemakers" disrupted services and tried to take over the mic and knock a pianist off the bench?

Now, here is another story about a Wichita, Kansas church that made the news, this one Baptist, but I think it's obvious that Reformation Lutheran is the church around which Sunday morning's "yarns" were spun.
This from the man whose security guards will haul someone out of 2000 Appling for sneezing. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but let us not forget the 15-year-old girl who was called out of a service at BBC, handcuffed, and cussed out by a BBC rent-a-cop who was fired from the Memphis Police Department for similar behavior.) I guarantee you if anyone, say a gay rights protester, so much as dared to interrupt a service at BBC, he'd find himself tackled, shackled, and hauled out before he knew what happened. And the cops would be called.

What if a prominent member of Bellevue was known to be engaging in blatant unChristian behavior (use your imagination) during the week, and protesters, whether they were Bellevue members or not, came into the church on a Sunday morning and interrupted the service to rebuke Steve Gaines for not disciplining or "excommunicating" this prominent member? I don't think it's a stretch to say that the protesters would be treated to the same (or worse) treatment that the anti-abortion protesters received at the hands of the members of RLC.

What is it with Baptist preachers and "embellishing" the last couple of decades? I suspect it's been going on since time began, but now we have the internet. (Praise the Lord, and thank you, Al Gore!) Dr. Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, is the most recent high-profile example who comes to mind. Several bloggers have done series of articles about his troubles:

Witness Unto Me > Ergun Caner's Secret Biography

FBC Jax Watchdog series

Ministry of Reconciliation series

Grace and Truth to You series

There was Darrell Gilyard and his story about living under a bridge during his youth. (Didn't happen.)

Mike Warnke (remember him?) stepped in it for years before being exposed as a fraud.

According to Ed Young (the younger) Fellowship Church doesn't "own" a private jet. They just "lease" it.

And Mac Brunson has been documented "embellishing" on more than one occasion.

Mac's Illustrations: Poor Sermon Prep or Intentional Fibs?

Mac a "historian"? More Evidence of His Difficulty Telling the Truth

There are 16 million members in the Southern Baptist Convention. We can't account for several million of them, but doggonit, that's our story and we're sticking to it.

And of course, "It was just an itty bitty fence."

It seems many preachers in the SBC are pragmatists. The ends justify the means, and if you have to "embellish" a little (or a lot) to make a story sound more interesting or cast yourself in a more favorable light, well... then so be it. Michael "Butch" Caner, the chubby kid who was raised with his two brothers by his mother in Columbus, Ohio apparently doesn't make for nearly as sensational a story as Ergun Mehmet Caner, the "towel-head" (his word) raised in Turkey as a devout Muslim and trained to "do that which was done on 11 September."

Fred, the Catholic mechanic, isn't nearly as inspiring as Fred, the evangelical Christian mechanic with the moving testimony. And when you can't find a good (and true) story about church members beating up on the pastor (there are plenty about pastors "beating up" on church members), you take a story about anti-abortion protesters disrupting a church service and rewrite it to suit your purposes.

How stupid does SG think people are? Especially after the Joan Rivers' "twin" story and the Nashville marathon winners, does he not wonder if someone is going to think, "Hey, I don't remember ever reading that story," and try to find it just to satisfy their own curiosity... and then figure out he's making the whole thing up? That's all I did. I thought surely with all the things I've read about abusive church situations in the past few years that I would have run across this one, and I likely would have remembered it. Even if I didn't remember it, I certainly should have been able to locate some mention of it somewhere -- a newspaper article, a TV report, a blog, something. But I came up empty.

I can't decide (1) if he's so arrogant or emboldened that he thinks he can say anything and the sheeple will swallow it (if this is the case, that actually seems to be working pretty well for him), (2) if he convinces himself he's telling the truth, or (3) if he's just that careless.

Let's assume the best case scenario, that it's simply carelessness. The man has a Ph.D. for pete's sake. How does one earn a Ph.D. if he's this lackadaisical about basic research? He's the pastor of what's still considered a large church. Doesn't such a prominent position demand more regard for truth and accuracy? I realize no one's perfect. We all make mistakes. (By the way, those are words I never want to hear a surgeon say.) But I don't see how there can be any excuse for being this fast and loose with well-documented facts. This is much more than just getting a detail or two wrong. If he's that careless about being truthful about details that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things -- marathon winners, Joan Rivers' "twin," this -- then just like Ergun Caner, why should anyone believe him when he talks about the things that really matter?

One of the few things I vividly remember from my days in the primary department of a Baptist Sunday School was the little song they drilled into us which was based on Luke 16:10. I can't find the song online now. It probably wouldn't be considered "cool" enough for today's children, but it made a lasting impression on me. Either this is all there was to it or I just can't remember the rest, but the tune and the line, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much," keeps running through my mind. (Read the rest of that verse for the corollary.)

If you aren't careful to be truthful about the little everyday details of things and not "embellish" a story to make it fit your purpose or make it more intersting to your audience, then why should we believe you're going to be truthful about the big things? Of much more eternal importance, why should a lost world believe you?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey

You just couldn't make this stuff up.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Let's Do the Tithe Rap!

This "rap" was performed in a Sunday service at First Baptist, Woodstock, Georgia where Johnny Hunt, current president of the SBC, is pastor. Not much I can think of to say about it. I think the latest commenter summed it up pretty well.

"Church today is a place to go for entertainment."

Update: I only thought it couldn't get worse. Now we have Ed Young, "Jr." rapping.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Demand to "Tithe" vs. Willful, Cheerful Giving -- Are We Still Under the Law or Not?

"The greatest measure of godly discipline is this... that thou givest 10% of thy gross wages, undesignated, to thy church's multi-million-dollar budget before thou givest one mite to the orphan, the widow, the poor, the hungry."

1st Hesitations 3:16

For at least the past three months, Steve Gaines has been emphasizing "tithing" and his definition of it.

On December 6th he had
this to say.

On December 27th he said

For two Sundays in January he announced "Prove the Tithe Day" which was, incidentally, cancelled by the weather.

Then on January 31st he topped himself with
this one.

FBC Jax Watchdog has written a good series of articles on "tithing" today as defined or perhaps misdefined by Steve Gaines and others.

latest concerns Steve Gaines' January 31st sermon.

Here are some previous articles:

A Look at the Doctrine of Storehouse Tithing

Ronnie and Johnny: Doggone It, How Can We Spread the Gospel If the Sheep Don't Tithe?

Takin' It Up With Da Book: The Truth on Tithing

Takin' It Up With Da Book: MacArthur on Tithing, Part 1

Bring Ye All the UNDESIGNATED Tithe to My Church....Now

'Twas the Sunday Before Christmas

Returning to the Topic of Storehouse Tithing

Circumcision Doesn't Raise Revenue

"10%....Undesignated....No Exceptions"

"Shake Down" or "Shake Up"?

What Ministry We Could Do if 90% Would Stop Robbing God

Adrian Rogers on the Tithe

Dr. Russell Kelly's book, Should the Church Teach Tithing? takes an indepth look at this topic.

So... are we still under Old Testament law or not? How does what preachers like Steve Gaines are demanding today... 10% of your pre-tax income given in an undesignated fashion to what has in some cases become a temple of greed... compare to the Old Testament tithe? Why do we not follow other OT laws, dietary laws, for example? Why "only" 10%? And how does this legalistic demand by men compare to the New Covenant concept of willful, cheerful giving to help spread the gospel and help care for those in need?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010 Memphis Passion Play Cancelled

Last week we learned that the annual Memphis Passion Play, the elaborate dramatic production depicting the last days of Christ on earth, a Bellevue tradition since 1991, is going "on hiatus" for a year. Of course, that's just a polite way of saying the Memphis Passion Play has been cancelled for 2010.

This is the explanation Steve Gaines and Mark Blair gave on Sunday evening, January 17th, for why this decision was made. My purpose is not to criticize or defend the Memphis Passion Play. Rather, it's to illustrate the flawed logic and seeming hypocrisy displayed by the Bellevue leadership Sunday evening when they tried to explain why the MPP is being cancelled this year.

Let's address in more detail some of the things that were said. Steve Gaines began by saying, "One of the best things we do at Bellevue... is the Passion Play. It's one of the greatest evangelistic tools we have. Thousands of people have been converted. And we have no intention of doing away with the... Passion Play. We're gonna... continue it."

Having said that, why would you ever want to not utilize, for even one year, "one of the greatest evangelistic tools we have"? If reaching people with the gospel really is our first priority, why would we not want to use that "tool" for a period of two years (from 2009 until 2011)? If Bellevue Lo♥es Memphis so much, why would they even consider cancelling the Memphis Passion Play? That makes no sense to me.

He went on to explain that the Memphis Passion Play began after the church moved to its present location. Prior to then the Easter presentation was called Living Pictures and was a much simpler production. That is all true. He said before the first MPP "they took a year off... in the spring... to get ready... for the new thing that was coming... that's the Passion Play." As if the circumstances in 1990 were the same as they are today. More about that in a minute, but first a little history.

From the book By His Grace and For His Glory: Celebrating a Century with Bellevue Baptist Church we read that the drama program at BBC goes back almost 60 years. Formed as a result of the "vision" of Dr. R.G. Lee, Bellevue's was the first drama ministry in the SBC. The first production in 1952 was "a three-act character drama directed by Mrs. H. Mahon Crawford entitled The Passing of the Third Floor Back." That was followed a few months later by "a light comedy." (I kid you not.) Four months later "a 25-scene pageant" entitled As I Remember depicting the life of Dr. Lee was presented. I was somewhat surprised that the early years of the "drama ministry" at Bellevue sounded more like a community playhouse than a church ministry, but I digress.

Simon the Leper was performed for Easter in 1953, and Esther was presented sometime in 1958. In 1961 they did Ben Hur, complete with "Broadway sound effects for the chariot race." Okay, I've seen the film version of Ben Hur. While I'm really trying to envision that on a church platform, even with Broadway sound effects, it's just not coming to me.

Two performances of The Robe were presented in 1957 with an "encore" performance in 1959. Not content even that long ago to do anything on a small scale, the church rented the costumes for the production from a Hollywood costume company. The author tells us that one of the rented military costumes was worn by Richard Burton in the film of the same name. Er... are we supposed to be impressed or something?

The auditorium built on Bellevue Boulevard in 1952 was outfitted with a stage fully equipped for dramatic performances, but the size of that stage was dwarfed by the one in the new sanctuary built in Cordova in 1989. I believe this is an important consideration when we compare the justification given for taking off a year to "retool" Living Pictures into the Memphis Passion Play in 1990 to what they're doing (or not doing) this year.

Here are photos of the Singing Christmas Tree in the old auditorium (oh, look, there's the infamous chandelier!) and in the new. Same tree but there's a whole lot more stage around it to fill now.



Beginning in 1981 Bellevue's annual Easter program was called Living Pictures. Here is a scene from that production:

Now, imagine that scene in the middle of this stage:

It would tend to get lost, would it not? So... the church had just moved to Cordova, and it is unlikely there was time to do all the preparation and build the large sets used in the MPP by Easter 1990. Therefore, the church took a year off from producing an Easter drama to prepare something new and on a much grander scale, and so the Memphis Passion Play began in 1991. Just as the church is doing this year, there was an Easter music program in 1990. We didn't just skip Easter that year!

According to this 2008 OneNewsNow article, "This year's Passion Play debuts February 29 when music, drama and message will fill Bellevue's huge auditorium in six presentations to a total of some 30,000 guests." That would have been the 2008 performance which was scheduled over the weekend of March 2nd, three full weeks before Easter (March 23rd). In 2009 the MPP was scheduled over the weekend of April 5th, just one week before Easter (April 12th). Could this have made any difference in the attendance numbers? Did the weather conditions any year play a role? In 2008 a Monday evening performance of the SCT was cancelled due to inclement weather. I don't know the answers to these questions regarding the MPP. I'm just wondering if there were unique factors in 2009 which negatively affected the attendance numbers. Perhaps the NCAA Final Four tournament which was scheduled for April 4th and 6th? (Basketball, even when the Tigers aren't playing, is big in Memphis. It probably wasn't a factor at all, but it makes as much sense as blaming the release of a movie.)

Steve Gaines said, "We... have come to a point... Brother Mark... has been talking to us about it... and you need to understand something... as much as we all love it.... " (The body language was very interesting during this monologue.)

He haltingly continued, "So... and I love the Passion Play... and... and we... we're... but here's the deal. The facts are the facts. For the last ten years it [the MPP] has steadily been going down in attendance... steadily. I'm not talkin' about a little bit. I'm talkin' about a lot. It's gone from 40,000 people watching it that first... that... in back in 2000... 2001... last year we only had 18,000. The biggest drop was around the year 2003, we believe... it was either 2003, 2004... it's before I ever came here, but the year they had The Passion of the Christ it dropped... about 10,000 in attendance... that one year. Brother Mark feels... and after... after he showed us the data and we've looked at it and... we feel like we're not in any way going to... do away with it, but we need... and we don't have the time... to do it... between now and Easter... we need... the time... to redo it to make it better."

"That first... that... in back in 2000... 2001.... " What? Spit it out! What are you talking about? Was that the "peak" attendance year? It wasn't the first year. We've already established the MPP began in 1991, not 2000 or 2001... or 1990.

So they're blaming a large decline in attendance at the MPP one year on the debut of a movie, The Passion of the Christ. Really? I find it difficult to believe that would cause an immediate 25% drop in attendance which lasted for the next five years. Actually, I would think the movie would increase interest, not decrease it.

The facts are always the facts, but are those really the facts? We don't know all the facts because, like detailed membership and SS and worship attendance numbers, those are well-guarded statistics. For example, is anyone privy to the total cost of the MPP or the SCT? Have they ever made enough on ticket sales and the ubiquitous "love offering" collected at every performance to cover the cost, or has the church always had to make up the difference from "undesignated tithes and offerings"? Who knows? All I see here is a man tripping over his tongue trying his best not to accept any responsibility for the declining attendance at Bellevue, not only at annual productions but in general.

This graph shows the decline in overall attendance in SS and worship services. These numbers were in the 2009 annual report which I dare say most members did not see. (And not because they were denied. They simply didn't care.) It has not been a "steady" decline. If the church's own numbers are to be believed, there was a sudden and precipitous decline in overall attendance beginning in 2006. That, combined with the recent practice of charging everyone, member and non-member alike, to attend these performances, has probably contributed the most to the decline in attendance at the MPP and SCT. Not to mention it's just plain tacky. I've said it before, and I'll say it again... if you can't afford to present the gospel without charging admission, scale down the production. Period.

In 2007, Alex Edward Plasschaert, a Hollywood choreographer hired by Bellevue, died while in Memphis for rehearsals for the 2007 MPP. Plasschaert "traveled here from his California home several times a year to be a choreographer at Bellevue, where he helped stage such annual productions as the Singing Christmas Tree, the 'Celebrate America!' Independence Day show and the Easter season Passion Play." Aside from the obvious -- why does a church need to hire a Hollywood choreographer in the first place? -- the Commercial Appeal article contained this quote:

Barnwell said 30,000 people will see the production this year [2007]. The even more popular Singing Christmas Tree is seen by about 49,600 people a year.

So in 2006-2007 about two-thirds more people attended the SCT than attended the MPP.

In 2008, on the day of the first performance, according to the OneNewsNow article above, they were expecting some 30,000 people to attend the MPP. (I assume this was based on ticket sales.) If I'm correctly deciphering what Steve Gaines was trying to say, if the peak was 40,000 in 2000 or 2001, and if attendance dropped about 10,000 after The Passion of the Christ was released (in February 2004), then it sounds as if attendance was steady between 2004 and 2008 -- at about 30,000, not "steadily declining." Either the press releases were inaccurate, or Brother Steve misread the data. Surely there's no "embellishing" here!

According to the May 2008 volume of The Messenger (BBC's bimonthly magazine), there were 855 people saved at the 2008 MPP, and there were 1496 rededications.

In the May 2009 Messenger, we read that 18,973 people attended the 2009 MPP. There were 1041 "decisions" which likely included POFs and rededications. I couldn't find a breakdown of the numbers, but let's assume for argument's sake the percentages were approximately the same as the year before. That would translate into approximately 379 POFs during the 2009 MPP. Or about 63 POFs per performance. Remember that number. There were about 63 POFs per performance during the 2009 MPP. Definitely a lower "return" than in 2008, but still pretty impressive.

Now, contrast that with the Singing Christmas Tree which has become more and more secularized with silly characters (to the point of pain), bad writing, corny schtick, unfamiliar music, and a bunch of disjointed dance routines by the youth while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have been relegated to much shorter appearances near the end -- kind of like they're just an afterthought now. I've heard it referred to recently as the Dancing Christmas Tree. Several of the traditional songs have been dropped including No Room, Shine Down, and It Is Finished.

As an aside, I was appalled to read about the competitions that took place every year for the "plum" spots in the tree -- the top and the intersection of the cross -- the latter which has now been eliminated from the tree entirely, and the former doesn't matter either since the elimination of No Room. Can you say "pride"? I'm sorry to say Bellevue has had some major "pride" issues for many years.

In 2008 the SCT was advertised as follows: "A chill is in the air. The department store windows are decked out with imaginative displays capturing the excitement of the season. In Rockefeller Center, the biggest Christmas tree you’ve ever seen is glowing with lights. There’s no place like New York City at Christmas, and the 2008 Singing Christmas Tree will once again bring a New York City-sized celebration right here to Bellevue. Join Kate, Luigi, and the cast for an unforgettable musical celebration." I can't put my finger on it, but something seems to be missing there. Could it be the thing that has historically resulted in fewer POFs during the SCT than during the MPP?

On Sunday morning, December 20th, Steve Gaines stated that during the seven performances (he thinks there were seven) of the 2009 SCT which some 32,000 people attended, there were a total of 1100 "decisions" with 444 of those being POFs. That's about 63 POFs per performance.

Does that number ring a bell? There were about 63 POFs per performance during the 2009 MPP, too! So it sounds to me like they got exactly the same "return" (i.e. POFs) per performance of the MPP during 2009 as they got for the SCT. Exactly the same. That's the bottom line, right? And considering over 12,000 fewer people attended the MPP than the SCT, it was really a greater return! As in most, if not all previous years, a larger percentage of people in attendance at each performance of the MPP made POFs than those attending the SCT. Considering the content of the MPP versus that of the SCT, that's no surprise to me at all. Yet we haven't heard any announcements about taking a year off to "redo" the SCT.

In fact, according to this advertisement for the 2009 MPP, it had just been "completely reworked with dynamic new music and inspiring scenes."

Wow. Having to return to the drawing board so soon?

Another quote from the OneNewsNow article:

Blair said the church sees their seasonal dramatic productions as bridge builders to the community. "We very much see this as a step in an evangelistic process," he explained. "For people who become a part of the church, the top response [in surveys] is that their first time to attend Bellevue was one of our major productions."

Bellevue members believe the time and effort invested in such programs are worth the effort. They don't want to measure the "success" of a production in numbers alone, but the fact is, the harvest is impressive and abundant. The productions are unashamedly evangelistic and include a clear invitation to follow Christ. Blair said last year's Passion Play
[2007] saw more than 1,100 people say they accepted Christ at the event, and almost 600 did so during the Christmas program.

Pretty impressive, I'd say! In 2007 there were almost twice as many POFs during the MPP as there were during the SCT. In 2009 there were, on average, the same number of POFs per performance during both productions.

I couldn't find attendance numbers for the SCT for the past few years (and didn't knock myself out trying), but if I recall, they've recently been in the 40,000/year range. When By His Grace and For His Glory was published in 2003, the average was said to have been 50,000/year, and Barnwell quoted right at 50,000 in 2007 (I assume based upon 2006 numbers). That's a drop from 50,000 to 40,000 to 32,000 in three years! In other words, those numbers have followed the same general rate of decline as overall church attendance, but if previously published numbers are to be believed, the MPP did not see a significant decline between 2004 and 2008, and there were just as many POFs per performance during the 2009 MPP as there were during the 2009 SCT.

In 2009 about two-thirds more people attended the SCT than attended the MPP. Exactly the same ratio as three years earlier. Therefore, the problem is not simply declining attendance at the MPP. Attendance has declined by about one-third over the past 3-4 years at both the SCT and the MPP and even more in SS and worship services.

So why take off a year to "retool" the MPP? Why now? Steve Gaines said, "You know, if you have a flat tire... it's kind of hard to change it if you keep the car going. Don't you have to pull the car over?" I'd say yes, unless the wheel is falling off the car. Then you pretty much have to stop in your tracks. There's been a drop of about 20,000 in attendance at the SCT but only about 11,000 at the MPP. Sounds to me like the flat tire is on the SCT.

"And so... we're losing momentum with it. It is not as effective as it's been."

Really? Looks to me like it's been more effective than the SCT has ever been. But, of course, that depends on one's definition of "effective."

"We feel like that it's time to retool it. And you have some... all that runway from July to uh... December to make changes with the Singing Christmas Tree. You don't have that with the Passion Play. You come right out of the Christmas Tree, and you've got three months... and there is no way anybody can change the whole set in three months."

You've had the "data" since April. If you're just now figuring out that changes need to be made, someone's been sleeping on the job.

So how is this year different from 1990? For one thing, we already have the sets. We didn't in 1990. If they're not going to start working on the new sets until July, what's stopping them from using the sets and costumes they've already got and letting the show go on as usual in March this year? We don't have to do six performances. Do three. Or two. Don't use the flying angels this year. (You know that's got to cost some money for what amounts to about 2 minutes of hang time.) Or live animals. There are ways to cut down on the expense without detracting from the "show."

The excuse, and I believe that's all it is, that you have all that "runway" from July to December to change the SCT and only the time between the SCT and Easter to make changes in the MPP is irrelevant. They've apparently known since April 2009 that they needed to make changes in the MPP. Why is this being presented as if Mark Blair just had some sort of epiphany?

"So, Brother Mark, tell us what your plans are, and I want you to know I... I support this man a hundred percent. I think he is God's gift to this church, and I believe with all my heart he is leading us the right way." {applause}

Mark Blair then explains his "dream" for the future. He seems sincere, and I believe he's only doing as he's been told -- fix it! I could be wrong, but I do not think Mark Blair initiated all this. The MPP was under his direction when it was "completely reworked" in 2009, so all I can think is, Mark had better get it right this time or he may become as expendable as Jamie Parker.

I propose there's one reason why they're cancelling the MPP this year, and that is indeed effectiveness. Cost effectiveness, that is. Money... or the lack thereof. It's the same reason they cancelled the "Family Fun Festival" on Halloween (which in its last incarnation needed to be cancelled as far as I'm concerned). Steve Gaines was overheard last fall telling someone they were cancelling that event because "the money pit is awfully shallow." (Here's some free advice. May I suggest not booking some overpaid CCM artist and blowing up thousands of dollars in a 20-minute fireworks show this summer? Thank you.) It's the same reason Steve Gaines has been harping on giving for the past two months. Thousands have left, and they took their money with them. The economy has tanked which hasn't helped, the people in the demographic they're now trying to attract are not generally the big givers, and the church appears to still be spending money like there's no tomorrow. The facts are the facts.

Until year before last members paid $10, and the church provided up to ten complimentary tickets to each member (more recently 8) for the SCT and the MPP to distribute to non-members and encouraged people to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They would let people without tickets line up an hour before each performance, and they were admitted before the program began to fill empty seats. I saw those lines at the SCT and will be the first to admit it was not the ideal setup, but at least it got people through the doors and into the seats.

If most of the complimentary tickets were handed out, probably no more than one or two people out of every 10 paid to get in. Then they changed the ticket structure to where everyone had to have a paid ticket to get in, and tickets cost $3, $6, or $12, depending on the location of the seat. That's an average of about $7 a ticket. Many of the people who used to receive complimentary tickets or who would line up at the door before the show and get in free can no longer do so. How many of those same people are going to be willing to go to the trouble and/or expense of buying tickets?

And what about advertising? How many thousands of dollars were spent on TV, radio, electronic billboard, and print media advertising for the SCT in 2009? It must have been a lot because I saw frequent commercials for it on TV during November and December. And still they managed to attract "only" 32,000 people this year. I don't ever remember seeing that volume of advertising for the MPP.

I would have so much more respect for the "leadership" if for once, just one time, they'd not go through all the mental gymnastics they seem to think are necessary to justify their decisions. Just say, "We're strapped for money this year and need to explore ways to reduce the cost of our programs." Or just, "We don't have enough volunteers this year, and everyone is pooped. We need to take this year off to recharge so we can come back strong next year." Whatever the real reason(s), just be honest. As someone once said, we didn't just fall off the cabbage truck.

Mark Blair mentioned Noah. Great Evan Almighty! Please tell me Bellevue doesn't have aspirations of competing with this!

Adult tickets cost $47!

I agree it's time to stop and "retool" something all right, but it's not necessarily the MPP. Here's a challenge to the leadership of Bellevue. Since money is apparently not the issue, why not take the funds that would have been spent producing the 2010 MPP plus what would have been collected on tickets plus what was projected to be collected in the six "love offerings" (last year's actual numbers will be fine) and write a check to the Haiti Relief Fund for that amount? It's just a thought.