Friday, February 21, 2014

Grooming Young Cult Members

This is a page from a children's coloring book compiled by Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, pastored by the inexplicably charismatic Steven Furtick. At first I thought this must... yes, had to be... a joke, but I quickly learned it's real.

What is charisma?

To most people, it's the inscrutable X factor--a mystical, almost magical career booster. Not many people have charisma. But when you talk to those who do, you discover that it isn't such a mystery after all. Yes, it's charm and personal magnetism, but -- more important -- it's the remarkable ability to get others to endorse your vision and promote it passionately. Charisma makes you a leader.

If that's the mark of a leader, of someone with that uncanny ability, then I'm at a loss to explain people like Furtick, Perry Noble, Ed Young, and yes, Steve Gaines. Because I don't find any of these men (or the dozens like them) charming or possessing a shred of personal magnetism. Quite the contrary, I find their narcissism and ham-fisted bullying a total turnoff. But assuming, and this must be true because they have hundreds, even thousands, of staunch defenders, that someone out there must view them as possessing that magic thing called "charisma," then the question arises, why do some people view these men as "charismatic" and blindly and enthusiastically follow them while others, myself included, see them for the scary cult leaders they are? What turns seemingly discerning people into rabid cheerleaders for the self-appointed man-o-gawd and his "vision"?

Charisma is a tricky thing. Jack Kennedy oozed it -- but so did Hitler and Charles Manson. Con artists, charlatans, and megalomaniacs can make it their instrument as effectively as the best CEOs, entertainers, and presidents. Used wisely, it's a blessing. Indulged, it can be a curse. Charismatic visionaries lead people ahead -- and sometimes astray. They can be impetuous, unpredictable, and exasperating to work for....

Maybe that explains it. Like any "gift," it can be used for good or... dare I say... evil. But why do so many people seem blind to it? Is it because there's a certain amount of truth mixed in with the leader's "vision"? When preachers exclaim, "It's in da book!" who's going to argue with that? Is it because a lot of people don't study their bibles and think for themselves, so they can be easily manipulated?

A popular and frightening trend in churches today, especially the megachurch variety, is "vision-casting" by the "senior" pastor and the demand by the man-o-gawd and his minions that the sheeple pledge loyalty to the pastor and his "vision." One of the red-flag words they use is "unity." One of Steve Gaines' favorite themes which I've heard him repeat in dozens of sermons is the proof-text of Ephesians 4:3... "to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And yet, he leaves out verse 2... "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love."

Is that what we see here?

The following is an excerpt from the transcript of a Steve Gaines sermon from several years ago. See if you can find any sign of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, or love in his words.

Bellevue Baptist Church needs proactive peacemakers... to come against any... troublemaker... and I'm telling you this. This may sound a little too clear cut for you, but I'm telling you... you're on one side or the other in any church you're in, whether you go to Bellevue or not. You are either a peacemaker, or you are a troublemaker. There is no middle ground. Peacemakers support the church's leadership... as long as it's scriptural. Peacemakers squelch gossip. They don't listen to it, and they sure don't share it. Peacemakers discourage division. What is division? Two visions. Peacemakers... rebuke troublemakers. Peacemakers comfort and reassure troubled church members. They diligently preserve the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. And all of us as members at Bellevue need... to be... such peacemakers. We cannot ever afford to allow Satan to divide us even just a little bit. WE CANNOT ALLOW TROUBLEMAKERS TO BE ALIVE AND WELL IN THIS FELLOWSHIP... in this church... to win the day! We must diligently be proactive and aggressively... be... peacemakers. That's the call for unity.

Steve Gaines and Steven Furtick are but two examples, albeit quite different examples, of what has been coined "the cult of personality." This is the situation where a man... or at least what a man says... becomes the focus of a church. Not all these characteristics apply to either of these men, but enough of them do that it should give pause to thinking Christians. How many of these do you recognize in these and other "senior" pastors you know?

The demand for special treatment, special honor, special recognition. In other words, there is an active cultivation of being treated differently than others.

"Spiritually-ordained authority," anyone?

No one is allowed to question the leader without retribution. There is a “thin skin” evident toward any and all critics, who are often written off as “haters” or simply those who are envious. There is a bubble that prevents constructive criticism.

"Troublemakers in the church"?

Hey haters!

There is no sense of team leadership, team teaching or team mentality. There is a single person or leader, and then there are implementers. No one is to question the leader’s vision. It is seen as God-given, sacrosanct, and thus anything the leader says or does in pursuit of that vision is never to be questioned.

"Our pastor's vision... "?

Sometimes they even invoke the law to keep the faithful loyal.

And whatever you do, don't question the man-o-gawd!

The person travels in an entourage, often with personal security, and is seldom accessible.

And, I would add, the person has a heightened sense of insecurity and paranoia.

Invoking the name of "Jesus" and saying that it's all about Him doesn't fool everyone into believing that's so.

In fact, with Elevation Church and their Code there's not much mention of Jesus or the gospel. The central figure seems to be "Pastor Steven."

Nowhere is this more evident than in this 2010 blog post in which the staff is given their marching orders.

We believe that God’s given Pastor Steven the vision of where he wants to take Elevation’s ministry. And the Lord’s called us all here to use our gifts and strengths corporately as a way of seeing that vision come to life.

Someone once asked (in response to one of Miss Higgy's flowery prayer letters) what is this thing called a vision? S/he then proceeded to define it.

Miss Higgy: "Pray for the commitment to the vision cast before us from the Lord through our pastor in sharing the love of Jesus with Memphis and all the surrounding areas in which we live."


Where has the Lord Jesus ever presented this doctrine? I mean, it's like Jesus is standing somewhere with a bow and arrow and attached to the arrow is this thing called a vision. Then Jesus releases the arrow and it zings through "our" Pastor and lands on the ground before us. As it lands we bow to it as a sacred "message from God". Do what?

Do what, indeed!

To indoctrinate susceptible adults in this "cult" mindset is one thing, but to do it to children is criminal. Wrap it up in as many proof-texts from the bible as you want. It's still spiritual abuse, and it's time for people to wake up and see it for what it is. It's this attitude of "do not question your spiritual authority figures" that is the root cause of much of the spiritual and sexual abuse in churches that we read about on a daily basis today. For pete's sake, wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late.


Headless Unicorn Guy said...

"Give me your children for a year and I will make them mine. You will pass away, but they will remain Mine."
-- A.Hitler, cult Fuehrer

LouMontgomery said...

somDoes Bellevue still have its "Secret List?" While Dr. Rogers was still there there was a list of all who had been accused of anything. The so-called accused was never informed of the charges. However they were effectively blackballed from ever serving in the Church. I wrote Dr. Rogers and asked him about this. He said he didn' know of any secret list. Incidently the "List" was managed by Paul Williams who said he "didn't have time to investigate all the accusations."

New BBC Open Forum said...

I have heard this for years, about the "list" and that Paul Williams was in charge of it. Someone wrote me a long time ago telling how s/he had been inexplicably "blackballed." I'll try to find that later if I have time.

Adrian Rogers may or may not have known about something like this. I have heard that he effectively insulated himself from such things, telling staff members, "Don't bring me anything negative." Pretty good strategy actually. If you don't have firsthand knowledge about the details of something you can claim plausible deniability.

Someone who worked at the church at the time PW was being "investigated" by the church, something they should have stayed out of and let the police handle, claims to have seen a very large document shredder being wheeled into the church office by a very high-placed staff member one evening. The next day it was nowhere to be found, and no one this person spoke with had seen it. If this happened, were they merely shredding old documents with people's personal information on them? Or were they (allegedly) destroying evidence that would have been detrimental to PW and perhaps others?

Whatever may or may not have happened, I've no doubt that there is a dark underbelly inside the walls of Bellevue that few ever see. Or want to see.

From the first time I set foot in the building the sense that "something's not right here" hit me like a ton of bricks. I tried for a long time to shake it off, believing it was "just me" and the result of being new. I would later come to learn it wasn't "just me." Others say they got the same creepy vibe.

I've joked that when Steve came they had to replace the carpet in the pastor's study, not just because he wanted to be able to comfortably walk on it barefoot but because of the mound of stuff that had been swept under it for so many years. I no longer believe it's a joke.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Someone who was required to meet with a Bellevue "counselor" before being allowed to go on a mission trip, when she heard heaven-only-knows-who was "reviewing" confidential counseling files to try to determine if Paul Williams had been "inappropriate" with anyone else (as if he'd notate that in someone's file!) said David Coombs told her that her file was on his (Coombs') desk. She was incensed that her deeply personal information was being so casually and freely passed around for heaven-only-knows-who to read.

I have heard some really ugly rumors that I would not repeat that had reportedly come from leaks by former "Christian counselors" at Bellevue.

Moral to this story? If you go to Bellevue for counseling with the expectation that your information will be kept private and secure, you're sadly mistaken. Go at your own risk. Anything you say can and may be used against you someday.

Lydia M. said...

NASS, I have been thinking about this off and on. Is it true (as mentioned in one of the earlier blogs) that shortly after Steve came that Donna said "Everywhere we go we have to take out the trash". Several claim they heard her say that. If this is true, then that remark and the fact that Steve's #1 love is money, then BBC is seriously flawed. A large % of the sheeple know nothing of all that has happened since Steve came. Thus this explains why he wants the old members out and the new in so he can start afresh (so to speak). Another thing: You may know that Mike Spradlin's ( Mid America Seminary) daughter was seriously injured in a car wreck and spent days in the ICU. Steve did not mention this; Joe Jernigan mentioned it in the Wed. night service. Yet, when Rick Warren's son committed suicide, Steve did not hesitate to tell us to pray for him. He did not mention Spradlin's daughter, because Spradlin stated that Steve should be fired for protecting the pedophile Williams. I may be wrong, but I think Steve still holds a grudge against Spradlin. Rick Warren is evil and speaks at mosques (see YouTube). Something is really really wrong at the church and the Hand of the Almighty may have to intervene.

James Sundquist said...

(in reverse order)

"When Does a Church Cross into a Cult?" (February 21, 2014)

Here is proof that Rick Warren is not telling the truth about his Purpose Driven Life book.

These objective shocking revelations about Rick Warren that should alarm you:

Anonymous said...

One good example of this mind set is the "I love steve group(Gaines)" on Facebook. No kidding. It really does exist.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Is it true (as mentioned in one of the earlier blogs) that shortly after Steve came that Donna said "Everywhere we go we have to take out the trash"?

Other than my source being trustworthy, you know the reason I believe she said that? It's because in the almost 8 years since I first heard it, to my knowledge no one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever denied that she said it. Don't you think that back in the day when this blog was getting upwards of 20,000 hits a day that at least one of the Gaineses' rabid cheerleaders would have defended her and denied she said it?

I may be wrong, but I think Steve still holds a grudge against Spradlin.

Perhaps. I wouldn't go so far as to assume that's the reason he didn't mention Laura Spradlin though.

WishIhadknown said...

Is it true (as mentioned in one of the earlier blogs) that shortly after Steve came that Donna said "Everywhere we go we have to take out the trash"?

I wonder, does anyone else see what is in common? It just seems to me that if "Everywhere we go we have to take out the trash" maybe the problem is not with the people at the places you go. Maybe, just maybe the problem is with you.

Mark said...

I am trying to find biblical precedent to a pastor being elevated to to the degree Steven Furtick and others are elevated and the only precedent I see are the Apostles. They had either known Jesus the Christ, or had a profound experience such as Paul. But in terms of iconography, such as is present in the Eastern and Western church, to a degree, there is no precedent in Protestantism. So Steve Furtick is viewed as an Apostle, and a holy man. Seems strange indeed in a Baptist sense. And it seems cult like because he has been set up on a pedestal so high, almost to a point of becoming an object of worship? This is a dangerous position to be in for both himself and those who venerate him.

New BBC Open Forum said...

If the shoe fits, ye men-o-gawd!

Lydia said...

NASS, I usually listen via computer streaming on Sunday night. Present in the congregation were Jim Whitmire and Rob Mullins, both of whom as you know were fired by Steve. Seems strange that Russ Quinn was the preacher this Sunday night, April 6th. This is just an observation and wondering if this was just a coincidence that Steve was not there. Many times Steve goes to Nashville or elsewhere the entire week, since he never has to preach on Wednesday night. The reason I know he goes from Monday morning until Friday or Saturday is because he said so. What do you think; I don't mean to be judgmental, but the diff. between Steve and Adrian Rogers is so like night and day.

New BBC Open Forum said...

What do I think. Hmmm... whether it was a coincidence that Jim Whitmire and Rob Mullins showed up at Bellevue on a Sunday night when Steve happened to not be there? Has Jim Whitmire even set foot inside that building since his "retirement"? I don't know or really care why they chose to attend that particular night.

What does give me pause is the recent news that the man who was fired from Bellevue by AR himself for showing porn to kids on a church computer (the version of the story I remember), the man who friends of mine witnessed provocatively rubbing the bare backs of teenage boys who were dressed in Roman soldier costumes backstage during the passion play, and the same man friends witnessed lifting teenage boys off the floor in a bear hug and twirling them around like his new bride... is now on staff at Rob Mullins' church. I care about that a whole lot more than I do about what night Rob and Jim chose to return to Bellevue.

I've heard it said by many that Rob's church is like "reliving the Glory Days at Bellevue." Well, folks, the "Glory Days" weren't nearly as "glorious" as you'd like to remember, at least not for the victims of PW and his ilk. For the love of all that's holy, wake up and smell the coffee!

LouMontgomery said...

I was under the leadership of both Rob Mullins and Jim Whitmire during the time I was at Bellevue. I found them to be honorable and Godly men. I am suspicious of any accusations of sexual misconduct issued by Dr. Rogers in the light of his "insulation" by the apostate leaders surrounding him. Unfortunately I would trust Rob Mullins' decisions rather than those of Bellevue.

New BBC Open Forum said...

I'm afraid I don't really understand what you're saying. Could you clarify?

LouMontgomery said...

I was referring to the comments about the staffer at Rob's church. I simply included Jim in my comments about honorable men

New BBC Open Forum said...

Still trying to understand what you mean. Are you saying you question whether the incident happened? That AR could have been the victim of misinformation by his handlers? What did you mean by "unfortunately" you'd trust Rob's decisions over Bellevue's? To me that sounds like you're implying Rob's "not a lot better" than Bellevue's "apostate leaders," but you trust his discernment over theirs. Please correct me if I'm wrong because I don't want to put words in your mouth.

I don't understand the purpose of accusing someone of something so serious, bringing him up for "church discipline," and firing him would be were it not true (if that's what you're implying and it may not be). I mean no disrespect to you and am not doubting what you say, just trying to understand as I'm still confused. If that were the case, would said former disgraced staff member not protest his (mis)treatment and unjust firing and declare his innocence? I know I would if accused of such egregious behavior. Also, how do you explain away the inappropriate behavior witnessed by others? This is not second or third hand information. This was behavior witnessed firsthand on multiple occasions by good friends of mine.

I've never heard said former staff member ever denied it happened. He, like another former BBC music staff member who has been accused of worse transgressions (with the police reports and subsequent "resignations" from other churches to corroborate it) have continued to be embraced by those same "Godly" men to whom you refer. (I cringe whenever I see mortal men referred to as "godly," much less "Godly." To me it puts them on a pedestal and sets them on a level above the rest of us mere Christians, applying to them a standard which no mortal can ever achieve.)

I know for a fact that Jim Whitmire has been presented with the evidence and that Rob was the source (or at least my source's source) regarding the latter of the two mentioned above of the "he got crossways with someone on staff (not BBC) and 'rode the mystery bus'" comment. I fail to believe that either of these men is that naive. Perhaps in denial, but surely not that naive.

I have no doubt the truth about both these men will all come out someday. It's unusual for this species of leopard to change his spots. Look how long it took for John Langworthy and PW to be exposed.

If anyone reading this was a victim of one of these men or any other person employed by Bellevue or any other church, please, I implore you, contact the police and get in touch with S.N.A.P. There are resources to help you, but it's not the church. The church is not concerned about anything but their image and the Benjamins. They will do everything they can to silence any negative publicity. Please don't let another day go by and the chance for another victim to be created. It wasn't your fault, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. As in the case of JL and PW, if the victims and people who knew what was going on had spoken out sooner, a lot of other victims and grief would have been spared. It's time to stop the cycle, and it's time for "godly men" to stop turning a blind eye to this problem.

Anonymous said...

You state: "No one is allowed to question the leader without retribution. There is a “thin skin” evident toward any and all critics, who are often written off as “haters” or simply those who are envious. There is a bubble that prevents constructive criticism." In reference to Steve Gaines did you ever see any of the trash on the "Saving Bellvue" website? They posted junk on their for several years, putting video of church business meetings from their phones without the guts to say hey I'm taping this, the posts were anonymous, etc... Whether you agree with Steve or not his opponents were underhanded at best and likely guilty of slander.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Not sure why I'm bothering to reply to this as it appears to be an out-of-state drive-by, but here goes. If you had read the article more carefully you would have realized that *I* did not pen the quote you attributed to me. All the words in italics are quotes from other people's works. The quote which you attributed to me came from the Cult of Personality article by Dr. James Emery White. Did you read that article? I agree with the author's assessment.

Here's another quote from that article:

... the greater dilemma is how many attenders of such churches would adamantly deny that a cult of personality is being intentionally fostered. Too many allow being fans, and having enthusiasm about ministry, to cloud their judgment.

Ain't that the truth?!

So what does this have to do with anything published on the Saving Bellevue website, a site which has not even been publicly visible for three years? I will be the first to admit the owner of that site could go off the rails occasionally and all the later Y2K-esque stuff seemed to portend the death knell of Saving Bellevue (or maybe the owner just decided to hang it up and move on... who knows?), but there was a lot of good information on there, too, information that at its height, thousands of people a day were seeking.

They posted junk on their for several years...

The word is "there." A college graduate, even one from Kentucky (I'm joking), should know that. Apparently the thousands of people who hit that site and this blog daily didn't all think it was "trash" or "junk."

... putting video of church business meetings from their phones without the guts to say hey I'm taping this...

Uh... it was a public meeting in a public place. Actually it was a "monkey business" meeting, and any similarity to a real church business meeting was purely coincidental. What were people supposed to do? Stand up and loudly announce, "Hey, y'all! I'm gonna be tapin' this meetin', 'kay?" I seriously doubt you were there anyway. Or even a member of Bellevue.

... the posts were anonymous, etc...

Wrong! The author of Saving Bellevue never hid his identity, and from what I remember, all the letters and articles published on the site were signed or properly attributed. And let me just say this about "anonymous" posts. The truth is the truth whether the author signs his or her "real" name to it or not. I'm sick and tired of people who claim nothing you write is valid if you don't sign your name to it. This is the internet. You can sign any name you want. Doesn't make it real. Here's a good example of one of the most vocal critics of "anonymous" posts when he himself was living a lie the whole time.

Whether you agree with Steve or not his opponents were underhanded at best and likely guilty of slander.

"Whether you agree with Steve or not"? What does the first half of that sentence have to do with the second? I suppose the pastor and his henchmen ignoring a no tresspassing sign to climb over the fence surrounding a gated community to intimidate a church member wasn't "underhanded." Or any of the other things perpetrated by the pastor and staff which have been detailed on Saving Bellevue as well as this blog. Openly taping a public meeting isn't "underhanded." I'm guessing those who taped it thought it was necessary.

Your comment is more of the same old crap. Give Pastor a pass and shoot the messenger, even after the messenger has been silent for over three years.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Watch Keep >> Denying and Enabling Child Sex Abuse

Anonymous said...

Bellevue is firing all the old people. What is up with that.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Can you be more specific? Such as names?

Bent But Not Broken 2005 said...

Re: Anonymous 6:47 AM 9/17/2014

Can you define "old" ?

> 40, 50, 60, 70, or 80 ???

Casey said...

Nass, as you may know, Steve did not preach Sun. night, January 25; Gentry Hill, husband of Steve's daughter, preached. Also, the church will have no evening service on February 1, due of course to the SuperBowl. The church also closes at night for various holidays, including Spring Break. I guess you can say that Steve and Adrian are very very different, to the point where it's getting intolerable.

Anonymous said...

Is there a newer new BBC forum.
Its been over two years since last blog entry.
Hope you are okay and felt you accomplished your mission and your efforts were productive.
Pray that you are born again.
So can see you at the finish line in Gods kingdom.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Thank you, anonymous. I'm doing well. In answer to all your questions, yes! Steve Gaines will have to answer for his own actions as will we all. I washed my hands of the SBC a long time ago. I haven't liked the direction the SBC has taken in the past 30+ years. My beliefs are still very "Baptist," but I'm truly embarrassed to call myself "Southern Baptist" anymore.

Perhaps I'll care enough to blog again someday. Thank you to everyone who played a role in the blog. This isn't a farewell statement. Someone or something may inspire me to blog again next week or next month or next year. I guess we'll see. In the meantime it will stand as an archive of some of the events of the past 10 years that should never be forgotten.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Eddie Struble