Tag Archives: Ergun Caner

Beyond Johnny-Dome: Taking a Right Turn off of the Johnny Hunt Highway

“I wonder when we are ever going to change…We don’t need another hero.” Britten and Lyle

This is a post that was almost never written.  It’s one that has been in my mind for a long time, but I’ve not yet put word to processor to write it.  The time has never seemed right to do so.  If the time has ever been right, it’s right now.  Christians in the state of Georgia and beyond need a reminder that they shouldn’t put too much stock in any one man’s personality or accomplishments (unless, of course, than man is Jesus Christ).  One such man is Johnny Hunt, pastor of the First Baptist Woodstock megachurch and a hero of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The false confidence that Georgia Baptists put in Hunt’s opinion of Ergun Caner last year has led to a lot of tragedy and heartache.   As many readers of this blog already know, Ergun Caner has recently resigned from the presidency of Brewton-Parker College among a brewing and secretive scandal.  CB Scott, a Vice President of that institution, was fired after he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  In his words, he refused to sign the agreement and accept an attractive severance package “as a matter of personal integrity.”  Of course, CB Scott should have never been put in that position because the scandal-ridden charlatan Ergun Caner should have never been appointed as the President of Brewton-Parker or any other Christian institution…but he was…at the recommendation of Johnny Hunt, whose moral authority and charismatic allure (likely) helped legitimize Ergun Caner as a viable candidate.   Even though Johnny Hunt knew of Caner’s past charlatanry, he still backed him.  He even invited him to fill his pulpit last July.  I was a member of Hunt’s church at the time.  I am no longer.  Like CB Scott, I wouldn’t just sit silent in the face of scandal and shame.

Highway 92 Revisited

hunt highway

“I’ll be a big noise with all the big boys. There’s so much stuff I will own.  I will pray to a big God as I kneel in the big church.” Peter Gabriel

Georgia State Route 92 is 97.81 mile span of road that runs from Griffin to Roswell and through eight counties: Spalding, Fayette, Fulton, Douglas, Paulding, Cobb, and Cherokee.  In Cherokee County, a short portion of the highway between Neese and Trickum roads was renamed “Johnny Hunt Highway” in honor of the Pastor of the First Baptist of Woodstock (FBCW).  The renaming of this portion of Highway 92 was the brainchild of former Georgia State Senate Majority Leader, Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), an active member of FBCW.  Rogers was named as one of “The Most Influential Georgians” by James Magazine in 2009.  On at least one occasion, while sitting in the congregation at FBCW, I heard Johnny Hunt give Chip Rogers a shout-out from the pulpit during a sermon.  FBCW is a voting precinct, I’ve witnessed Chip Rogers actively standing outside of his own megachurch holding a campaign sign to encourage people to go into the church building and vote for him.  Incidentally, a controversial real-estate deal in which Chip Rogers was involved “contributed significantly” to the failure of a Georgia community bank, according to the bank’s chairman.  Rogers was sued by the bank.  Incidentally, Rogers resigned his senate seat not long after it was revealed that he was involved in a sports-betting enterprise before his political career, advertising himself in videos as “Will the Winner” and encouraging callers to call a 900 hundred number for winning picks.  Gambling is frowned upon at FBCW.  Incidentally, I have to wonder how much discernment Hunt exercises when he chooses his influential, big time friends.

“…your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder…I had a feeling that I belonged. I had a feeling I could be someone. Tracy Chapman

While “Will the winner” is gone from the Georgia Senate, the Johnny Hunt Highway remains.  FBCW itself is located on this small stretch of highway.  However Hunt’s and FBCW’s influence is not limited to a plot of land on the side of Highway 92 in Woodstock, GA.  The church boasts three additional campuses, one of which in Panama City Beach, where Johnny’s daughter Deanna Hunt Carswell lives.

Deena Hunt

Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, presents conferences nationally.  He bestrides the narrow evangelical world like a colossus.  When Johnny Hunt speaks people listen…and his voice emanates each Sunday from the Johnny Hunt highway.

“I took a drive today, time to emancipate…Saw things so much clearer, once you were in my rearview-mirror”. Eddie Vedder

The last time I traveled the Johnny Hunt highway was Sunday July 27, 2014.  I had just been escorted off of the campus of FBCW by this rather large security officer in a black suit, wearing an earpiece, whom I’d never seen at church before:

ergun goon

I was escorted off the campus at the order of John Day, who directs security at FBCW and whose son was one of Johnny Hunt’s mentees.  Multiple witnesses have attested that I was not acting in a disorderly way.  My only offense was attempting to warn fellow church members about the charlatan Ergun Caner, whom Johnny Hunt had invited to fill the church’s pulpit that day.  (Johnny was on vacation at the beach that day, on a rented yacht I’m told, near the FBCW Woodstock campus in Panama City).

Posted to Johnny Hunt’s Instagram Account on 07/27/2014

My stance on Ergun Caner was starkly different than Hunt’s.  Before Ergun’s sermon…let me pause, I use that term loosely.  Caner just mentioned a bible passage and then talked about himself for 45 minutes.  I don’t think Allan Taylor, the education minister at Woodstock liked Caner’s 45-minute talk about himself much either as this July 29 tweet might indicate:

taylor tweet

Before Caner’s sermon began, a prerecorded video of Johnny Hunt was played for the crowd.  In the video Hunt, stated:

“Ergun, I love you my friend.  I’m grateful for the way God has used you and is using you.  Thank you for your humble spirit and the way you’ve just desired to serve…just know that Woodstock welcomes you this morning…thank you for honoring us by being here today…Woodstock, know that you are in a for a real treat.”

We were not, as Taylor’s tweet implies, in for a treat.  I’d never seen Johnny have to plug a guest preacher so much before.  Yet, he plugged Caner.  Perhaps he did so because he knew people had reservations about Caner. Caner is a known charlatan who is known to have used off-color racial language in the pulpit.  According to initial reports coming from Brewton-Parker, Caner used such language at the offense of many. At a chapel service at the school and a third of the student body walked out in protest of Caner.  This incident precipitated what many believe was a forced resignation.  However, Caner using such language was Caner being Caner…the same Caner that Johnny Hunt, Newsong, and Tony Nolan have known for years.  The reader may be perplexed at the point as to why I bring up Newsong and Tony Nolan.  Along with Hunt, these individuals have preached at conferences with Caner for years. Their connection is more than spiritual (and financial).  Hunt’s daughter is married to a member of the Carswell family, of Newsong fame.  Tony Nolan recently preached a revival at Brewton-Parker where it was claimed that 120 souls were saved at one time.  Johnny Hunt was on the board of Liberty University when Caner was the Dean of the theology school there.  Thick as thieves, they are.

Ergun Caner is one of Johnny Hunt’s big time buddies.

I am not.  I was just a pew-sitting, rank-and-file member of Johnny Hunt’s church.  I wasn’t one of his celebrity associates, he was just my pastor.  I couldn’t even get a meeting with him to talk about my concerns with Ergun Caner.  Maybe he would have met with Will the Winner.  When I tried to talk to the church about them, I was escorted off campus.  I was escorted off along with John Day’s own nephew, who had accompanied me to church that day.  His nephew is not a Christian.  We were on the way to Sunday School class when we were forced to leave.

I tried to warn my church about Johnny’s friend, Ergun Caner.  I was kicked off the campus for doing so.  I haven’t been back.  I drove off with John Day’s nephew and left the Johnny Hunt highway in my rear-view mirror for good.  I know of at least three other families that have left church in the wake of this scandal…out of hundreds who ignored or endured it.

Ichabod.

The Political World of American Evangelicalism

We live in a political world. The one we can see and can feel; But there’s no one to check, it’s all a stacked deck. We all know for sure that it’s realBob Dylan

All this is water under the bridge.  I’m not bitter and I now have a pastor who’ll take a meeting with me.  He’s a great man, though, you’ve likely never heard of him.  He’s not an evangelical celebrity, he’s just a guy who will take a meeting with little pew-sitter like me.  I bring up these events of the past to show that we’ve let certain personalities in evangelicalism become too big to fail and those who speak out at their local church, like me, will just get escorted out the front door for dissenting.  CB Scott was fired from his job at Brewton-Parker for not pledging to keep his mouth shut about Caner.   Not fired in the wake of this latest Caner scandal, was Brewton-Parker VP, Peter Lumpkins, who recently likened Caner to Elijah.  The band plays on.  The political intrigue continues.

Over a year ago, I wrote about Caner’s ill-fated hire at Brewton-Parker.  So did James White, so did Mark Lamprecht, so did a lot of folks. The Trustees at Brewton-Parker listened to men like Johnny Hunt instead.  Ergun Caner and his friends were too big to fail…but they did.  Then they tried to sweep it under the rug…again.  People didn’t listen to my warning.  We need to use this latest incident as a catalyst to change the culture of evangelicalism.  Ergun Caner is not the problem, the environment is.  It’s a political world.  I said it a year ago, and I’ll say it again:

“To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Ergun Caner does not manage the financial stewardship of any Georgia Baptist church. Dr. Caner is just a man who was looking for a job in his field and found one. The Georgia Baptist leaders, specifically the trustees of Brewton-Parker, entrusted with the task of hiring the President of the institution are the ones responsible for installing Dr. Caner in that role. They dropped the ball. These men are the ones who should be held accountable by Georgia Baptists. These men and the institution they lead should be defunded immediately.”

Jesus said He would build his church.  Let’s stop looking to mega-pastors and personalities to do it for Him.  We don’t need another hero, we have Jesus.

“Thinking about formulas, what we’ve done. I’m 71 today, y’all know that? 71…and in the 50 years, I’ve been in the ministry…I’ve watched formulas, formulas of man’s opinion of how to do church. If you do this, this, this, this and this, you’re going to be big, big, and bigger…and I’m telling you, it’s like a virus! And it’s everywhere! And you know what, it sells. Publishers are grabbing these things and they’re heralding these mega-churches wherever they are and they’re heralding mega-preachers who’ve become gods and their selling their stuff and here’s the problem…people are buying it like you wouldn’t believe. They’re sucked right into a message that says, ‘You can build God’s church!’ when Jesus himself said, ‘I will build my church.’ Man’s creativity, God does not need. He’s needs man’s willingness to surrender to him.” Wayne Barber, preaching to the congregation at the church were I grew up on July 27th, 2014, the day of I was escorted out of FBCW.

To all the people who valued Johnny Hunt’s recommendation over the documented evidence of Caner’s incorrigible charlatanry…

I told you so.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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The True Issue: an Open Letter to Johnny Hunt from a Concerned Church Member of First Baptist Church of Woodstock

Again with ALL due respect, (Johnny Hunt) the true issue is not Ergun, it is the leadership you are influencing by allowing this. You will be held accountable before God and man” Ryan McCollister

In my recent interview with the Pulpit and Pen Program, I was asked if I knew of any other members of First Baptist Woodstock who were upset that Ergun Caner had been invited to fill the church’s pulpit. I responded that I knew at least one but, the fact is, there are more. Some of them are not currently willing to express their feelings publicly. At least one more person, in addition to myself, has shown himself willing. Yesterday, after much prayer and forethought, another member of First Baptist Church of Woodstock made a public statement about the situation at First Baptist Church of Woodstock. He did so via a Facebook post. With his permission, I have reproduced his open letter to Johnny Hunt here. His only condition in granting permission was that this reproduction glorify Jesus. I pray that it not only glories Jesus but fairly represents my brother in Christ.

Before presenting the letter, allow me to give a short introduction of Ryan McCollister

I personally know Ryan to be a God-fearing, Christ-honoring man. He demonstrates a Christ-like love for his wife. He shares the gospel in season and out. He is a hard worker. He studies the Bible diligently and is in the process of earning a Religion degree from Liberty University Online. When my family and friends gathered to celebrate the first birthday of my daughters, it was Ryan whom I asked to do the honor of asking the Lord’s blessing of the occasion.

Ryan moved from Ohio to Georgia so that he could be a part of First Baptist Woodstock. This move is a clear demonstration of the respect that Ryan has for the ministry of Pastor Johnny Hunt. Please keep that in mind as you read his letter. I assure you, he wrote it with a heavy heart.

Ryan wrote…*

Pastor Johnny,

With ALL due respect, I will not be at FBCW this Sunday and, like most, it’s not because you are not there.

‘Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.’ (Ephesians 5:11)

I believe in grace, mercy, and forgiveness wholeheartedly and I live it out. I believe in church discipline as well. You and I choose not to do specific things, say specific things, and post specific things because we know the consequences it will cost. Here is the problem I have; I would keep this private, but everything that has happened and has kept on happening is in the open public. The SBC is openly promoting/protecting it.

If I or any other of my preacher friends had done what Ergun has done, we would never preach in a SBC church again even if we did publicly repent of the same type of actions.

Think about it… If you can get fired from a high position at Liberty University for continual false testimonies, recently sue the brethren for exposing the false testimonies to the masses, lose in court and be reprimanded and commanded by the judge to repay the legal fees of the defendants, still make a $130k+ salary that Georgia Baptists fund at a different ‘Christian college’, and to still be chosen to come and preach at my church over THOUSANDS of Holy Spirit filled, God called and gifted SBC preachers who are walking blameless and could be called to fill the pulpit then there is something seriously wrong!

A house divided will not stand and it has been crumbling!!

Holy Spirit please open the blind eyes and unlock the deaf ears and move on your people!!!

Open public sin calls for open public repentance!

Johnny Hunt, I’m heartbroken! I truly thought your leadership would prevent things like this from happening. You are passionate about exposing the prosperity gospel for being a lie. None of those who preach such heresy are prominent preachers in the SBC. Yet, a individual who is prominent in the SBC and is known to have openly and consistently spread his false testimonies gets invited to preach to our church, to our babes in Christ!?

I know exactly why Ergun Caner refuses to openly publicly repent; it’s strategic. His books and trainings that have impacted the military have made him more money and notoriety than imaginable. If he openly repents, true revival may break out but it will inevitably cost him dearly. The federal government will get involved and he may spend many years in prison and have to pay out thousands of dollars. This has nothing to do with Calvinism or hatred towards Ergun, or lack of grace; it has everything to do with integrity and a passion for Gods Truth! I was a big fan of Ergun and he had influenced me greatly in the past…until The Lord convicted me while listening to his materials. I was taking notes and noticed the HUGE inconsistencies.

Again with ALL due respect, the true issue is not Ergun, it is the leadership you are influencing by allowing this. You will be held accountable before God and man. As John Maxwell has said, ‘everything rises and falls on leadership’. I love you pastor and I’m on your team but if something is not done about this I may no longer be under your influence and leadership.

The cost of following Jesus may cost us nothing but it will cost us everything even when we are in the wrong.

Sincerely,

Ryan McCollister”

In my opinion, Ryan gets it. This is not about Ergun, this is about an environment in which a man like Ergun can flourish. I hope you’ll follow Ryan’s example and speak up. I hope you’ll follow Jesus’ example by holding sinners accountable and calling them to repentance.

To all reading this blog and following this issue: May the Lord be the judge between you and me.

*I edited the letter slightly for grammar and context to make Ryan’s intent more clear.

**Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

The Determinist, the Apologist, and Emotional Captivity: What Was Not Discussed in My Interview with the Pulpit and Pen on First Baptist Woodstock, Johnny Hunt, and Ergun Caner

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”  The Lord Jesus as recorded in Luke 14:26

Last night J.D. Hall interviewed me for the “Radio Free SBC” segment of the Friday July 25th edition of his Pulpit and Pen Podcast.  This article is meant as a companion piece to that interview.  I wrote this late.  Forgive typos.

The subject of Friday’s “Radio Free SBC” portion of the Pulpit and Pen Program is the tragic invitation that Johnny Hunt extended to the charlatan Ergun Caner to preach at First Baptist Church of Woodstock on July 27, 2014.  Since I am a member of FBCW who has vociferously objected to the propriety of such an invitation, J.D. Hall was interested in hearing more about my perspective on the matter and thus he asked me to be a guest on his program.  I was happy to share my perspective and am grateful to J.D. for the forum.  I look forward to hearing the program tomorrow when the podcast is posted.  However, there is one additional facet of my experience at First Baptist Woodstock, one that wasn’t covered in the interview, which I’d like to share here…my emotional reaction to the great injustice perpetrated by my church and my pastor.

During our interview, JD and I didn’t really talk much about emotions and feelings.  We talked a little about how indignant I felt, but we mainly stuck to rational argumentation and discussion.  What else would one expect from the both of us, giving our mindsets?  After all, J.D. Hall is a staunch Calvinist and I am a logically-minded Christian apologist.[1]  Men such as us, more or less, tell it how it is.

Ask a Calvinist about the justification for God ordering the extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament and you’ll likely get an answer like this:

“The Canaanites weren’t elect.  They were vessels prepared for destruction.  Just look in God’s word. Read Romans 9:22. How dare you question the sovereign God of the universe!”

Ask a Christian apologist about for justification of God ordering the extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament and you’ll likely get an answer like this:

“Well, you really can’t even have objective moral values and duties unless they are grounded in God.  So, it really doesn’t even make sense for a finite being such as yourself to question the justness of our Holy God.  Without God, moral values and duties and even a sense of ‘justice’, are purely subjective matters of opinion.  In such a case, murder and genocide can’t be universally condemned but can only be viewed as matters of preference.  Thus, your question is really just nonsense if you think about it.”

For a person dealing with an emotional objection, such answers go over like Mark Driscoll at a Beth Moore study. People are thinking beings as well feeling beings.  I know this; however, I rarely remember to put forth any emotional arguments for God.  I read a book on doing so.  I even asked a lady apologist for advice.  It turns out, that sometimes people just need to understand the emotional side of things.

I think people may be having an emotional rejection to believing that Johnny Hunt is leading his church in a bad direction.  My strictly-business way of approaching the matter just isn’t getting over.  Someone in my Apologetics Sunday School class (of all places) pointed it out to me last night:

erin

I haven’t been considering the emotional side.  This is quite the blunder on my part, especially since this experience has been so emotionally wrenching for me.   One of the reasons, I think, that members are refusing to leave First Baptist Woodstock as it refuses to right this wrong is because the church leadership is holding them emotionally hostage.  Church members are “plugged in” to their church.  To take a stand, they’d have to take up their crosses and leave friends or family behind.  Doing so hurts.  I know because I am doing it.

Missing Miss Mona

“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42

There are a lot of kind, servant-hearted people filled with the Love of Christ at FBCW.  One of them is a sweet, old Iranian lady who works in the FBCW nursery named Miss Mona.  My wife and I absolutely adore her.  When our twin girls were first old enough to be taken out of the house to church, we started bringing them to Miss Mona in the nursery.  It was hard for my wife, a first time mother, to leave our children with anybody.  However, she always had peace of mind when leaving them with Miss Mona.  Miss Mona was always so excited to take care of a pair of twins.  She fawned over our girls and always thanked us for bringing them.  She always asked us to bring them back the next week and said, “I take such good care of your babies” in her thick Farsi accent.

One Sunday, I came to church to substitute teach Sunday school and dropped of my babies with Miss Mona.  After class, I picked up my babies from dear Miss Mona and never returned them to her.  She had watched them grow up for weeks; now she doesn’t know whatever became of them.

One day, after not attending Woodstock for some weeks, I got a postcard from the nursery looking for our family.  Miss Mona missed the babies.  It was one the most heartbreaking piece of mail I ever received.

I used to love to listen to Pastor Johnny preach.  It was his preaching that first drew me to visit FBCW. Now, after finding out what kind of man he is, I am loathe to hear him speak.  Johnny’s spiritual gift is exhortation.  At this point, he couldn’t so much as exhort me to take out the garbage on trash day.  Still, I found myself telling my wife, “We need to go back to Woodstock; Miss Mona needs to see the babies.”

But we haven’t been back.  We miss Miss Mona.  We miss our brothers and sisters in Sunday School, too.

“Hey hey, I can’t meet you here tomorrow, No say goodbye, don’t follow.” Jerry Cantrell

I miss Steve Kennedy, our Sunday School teacher.  He taught my wife more about the Bible in 26 weeks than she had learned in 26 years of going to church.  Steve is one of the most knowledgeable theologians I’ve ever met.  He has a Divinity degree from Liberty online, but he isn’t a professional minister.  He’s just a guy with a regular job who loves to teach about Jesus.  He used to teach my wife and me. Now he does not.

I miss Shirley.  She works for the church in administrative capacity. She is an elderly woman who attends our apologetics class.  She reminds me of my grandmother. Most fundamentalists Shirley’s age aren’t interested in apologetics, but she is.  I think that’s so neat.  She always had a word of encouragement for me and was always so open about sharing her life experiences.  I heard wisdom in her words.

I miss Lauren and Bonnie.  They are sisters who run a wedding dress shop.  They minister to people who have been abused trough human trafficking.  Lauren cries almost every time she opens up because she loves Jesus so much.  She always wears heavy purple or blue eye shadow.  I wonder what tragedy those painted eyes have seen through her ministry.  Whatever they have seen, I see her as someone he keeps her eyes on the Lord.

I miss Sharon.  She is Shirley’s friend.  Her husband is Jewish.  He waits in the car during the sermon and most of Sunday School and then he comes to pick her up.  Sharon wants to see her husband come to Christ and goes to apologetics class to become a better witness for Jesus.

I miss Kirk.  He’s a landscaper. He’s a dad who brings his young son to Apologetics class.  I think it’s because he knows that his son is going to grow up in a world that is hostile to our faith and he wants to prepare him.  It does my heart so well to see a dad lead his son like that.  I wish everybody did.

I miss Jeff.  He works in the produce department at the grocery store.  Jeff got in an accident when he was little and it stunted his mental development.  The doctors said he wouldn’t make much of himself.  He hasn’t let his limitations stop him from working hard and engaging in the theologically heavy discussions of apologetics class.  This guy, who the doctors said would never be all there, invites Mormon missionaries to his house so he can share the true gospel with them.

I miss Steve.  He works in graphic design.  He’s Puerto Rican, he used to be catholic but he came out of that religion to find Christ.  Now he has an interest in apologetics.

I miss Lara.  She doesn’t fit the mold of ultra-conservative republican Cherokee County Redneck.  She’s a (gasp) democrat, but she drives a long way to get to FBCW to participate in apologetics class.  Sometimes, she brings chocolate chip cookies.  They are really good.

I miss Erin.  She’s a single mom.  She doesn’t go to the ladies Sunday school class.  She comes to our little diverse group.  She doesn’t say much, but when she does (see the tweets above), it makes you think.

I used to pray with all these people every week.  We shared our needs with each other.  I haven’t seen them in months.

These names are just some of the people I miss from church.  I don’t go there and I don’t give there because I know it’s immoral to support the errant leadership of a church like First Baptist Church of Woodstock.  I wonder, does mega-church Pastor Johnny Hunt know the voices and names off all the people I miss?  I do.  I know for darn sure that Johnny knows the name of his good-old boy buddy Ergun Caner.

I think Hunt knows that every-day members like me are so plugged into his membership that many won’t leave no matter what he and the other leaders do.  They hold people emotionally hostage.

I hope that soon and very soon, people will pick up their bibles, turn to Matthew 10:37-38 and realize that following Jesus sometimes mean leaving loved ones behind.  I hope that individual everyday people at FBCW will start looking to holding each other accountable and look away from the cult of personality of Johnny M. Hunt.  It’s quietly tyrannical.

“There shall be no more tyranny. A handful of men cannot seize power over thousands. A man shall choose who it is shall rule over him. . . . We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills . . . we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.”  James Otis, from the novel Johnny Tremain

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Mid-Size Church

“I seem to recognize your face. Haunting, familiar yet, I can’t seem to place it. Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name. Lifetimes are catching up with me” Eddie Vedder

I’ve only been a member of Woodstock for a couple of years.  I wasn’t saved there.  I wasn’t baptized there.  I didn’t grow up there.  Do I know what it would really be like to stand up and leave over the evil Johnny is perpetrating on his people?

A couple of years back, my granddad was in the hospital.  My wife and I went to visit him on a Sunday.  That evening, I got the idea to stop by the church where I grew up for the Sunday night service.  I hadn’t been there in over ten years, since my family moved from Chattanooga to Cartersville.  The church had sold the building and moved.  It was a different place…but the people were the same.

When I walked in a saw an old lady named Pasty.  I hadn’t seen her since I was a teenager. I couldn’t even remember her name at the time but I knew that I knew her.  In my mind’s eye, I could see her in the parking lot of the old church where I’d see her at the same time every Sunday.  Patsy has known my mother since before I was born.  Seeing Patsy made me feel like I was home.  It was a Sunday night service, there was no choir.  We met in the dark, concrete floored youth area…but I knew the preacher and I knew the people.

I wept.  I was home.

It’s hard to leave home, but sometimes Jesus asks us to do so, carrying our cross along the way.  For me, First Baptist Church of Woodstock had become home, but it is a corrupt place, and it appears that it will not change.

Injustice: Thoughts on Hobby Lobby and the Local Church

Now for the rational argument….

I don’t know any fellow Southern Baptists who were indignant over the recent Supreme Court decision to exempt Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.  We all seem pretty satisfied with what appears to be a decision to respect religious liberty.  If there is anything in the adjudication of the Hobby Lobby case with which to be dissatisfied, it is the narrow 5-4 margin by which the Supreme Court made its decision.  The Supreme Court was very close to dealing a blow to religious liberty in the United States.  Only one vote prevented it from doing so.   Now, this doesn’t amount to anything where results are concerned.  As my daddy once told me, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  Yet, we almost had a big problem on our hands.

I ask you fellow Christian, “What would you have done if the Supreme Court’s decision had done the other way?”

Would you have protested?  Would you have sought to have the law repealed?  Would you call for more drastic measures?  Would you have been able to honestly say to those who supported the contraceptive mandate:

“ We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

I don’t think I could.  I can’t say the same to anyone who supports Johnny Hunt.  No matter what good he has done in the past, he has proved himself inadequate today.

I’m moving on.  I’m pressing on.  Who knows where I’ll end up?  There is a potential for a seminary graduate coming out of FBCW.  Churches recruit ministers from there.  I may now be anathema in the Georgia Baptist Convention for speaking out on the Pulpit & Pen program against Johnny Hunt.  So be it.  I ain’t going where I don’t belong.

If you are enduring corruption quietly, it might just be because you are exactly where you belong.

Wake up.  Strengthen what remains.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] Or, at least, I am studying to become one

Fahrenheit Highway 411: Matthew LeHew, Shorter University, and Ergun Caner

 “It was a pleasure to burn.” Guy Montag, from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Matthew LeHew Calls Out Ergun Caner

Matthew LeHew

It’s simply important for all BPC stakeholders, especially the faculty and staff that make their living at the institution, to realize how serious the situation is[1] – Matthew LeHew

On or about the 10th of July, Matthew LeHew published an article on his personal website entitled “Ergun Caner is Wrong About Brewton-Parker’s Accreditation”.  LeHew was responding to a video (see below) in which Caner assesses the ramifications of the recent decision of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to strip Brewton-Parker College of its accreditation (Caner is the President of that school).  In the video, Caner makes a number of claims with which LeHew takes exception, most notably the claim that “(Brewton Parker) won’t lose (its) accreditation, not for a moment.” At first blush, someone posting yet another criticism of Ergun Caner doesn’t seem like big news; I’ve done it, Mark Lamprecht has done it, James White has done it, JD Hall has done it, Tom Rich has done it, others have done it; Caner and Brewton-Parker are criticized weekly, if not daily, by many.  So what’s new?  What is significant about Matthew LeHew writing an article critical of Caner?  Matthew LeHew’s criticism is very significant because of where he works and what he does for a living.  Lehew is an “Assistant Accreditation Liaison” at Shorter University, which, like Brewton-Parker, is a Georgia Baptist Institution.  According to Shorter’s website, LeHew worked as “as an accreditation compliance officer at The Baptist College of Florida” before coming to Shorter.  So, not only is Matthew LeHew the first (to my knowledge) employee of a Georgia Baptist cause to publicly criticize Ergun Caner and Brewton-Parker, he is a Georgia Baptist insider with expertise in matters of institutional accreditation. LeHew’s article was, to say the least, very damning of Ergun Caner’s claims.   The article was also very well written.  Such quality is to be expected from LeHew, who is also an “Instructor of Communication Arts” at Shorter University and teaches a class entitled “Media Law & Ethics.To summarize: A Georgia Baptist college communications instructor who works in the area of institutional accreditation and teaches a class called “Media Law and Ethics” wrote and published an article for the whole world wide web to see in which he stated: Ergun Caner, president of BPC, has (deliberately or not) misrepresented the security of his institution’s accredited status to his faculty and staff.”[2] LeHew is not an accountant (like me), a financial services professional (like Lamprecht), an apologist (like White), or an electrical engineer (like Rich); he is a communications professional employed by a Georgia Baptist Institution that works in the area of institutional accreditation and has proclaimed Ergun Caner’s statements about Brewton Parker’s accreditation status to be “egregious”[3] and “very, very wrong.”[4] I don’t know how many page views LeHew’s website received after he posted his article, but I do know he website stopped working for a time, perhaps because it was overwhelmed by server traffic.  Now, his article is gone.  It was removed almost as quickly as it was posted.  The critical article has been replaced…by an apology. Not only has the article been removed but LeHew has demanded that Tom Rich remove a copy of it from his blog.  Rich, with LeHew’s persmission, had posted a copy of LeHew’s article during the time in which LeHew’s website was down.  Now, LeHew has demanded that Rich remove the copy. Rich has done so. I am left thinking that LeHew removed the article and posted an apology because his job at Shorter University was threatened.  LeHew’s critical article, it appears, has been censored.  Did the powers that be at Shorter and the Georgia Baptist Convention consider it dangerous?  Having read LeHew’s article and observed the candor with which LeHew wrote, I’m convinced that they did.  If Mathew LeHew was under the impression that he possessed a certain degree of academic or personal freedom while in the employ of Shorter University, it appears as if that impression was a mistaken one. As LeHew took down his article and issued (what I believe to be) a contrived apology, I wonder, did he think his words were a pleasure to burn?  Did LeHew take stock of his situation and come to the realization that he worked for the thought police? To those familiar with recent events at Shorter, a situation like LeHew’s should not come as a surprise. Shorter University is no stranger to controversy.  It recently had accreditation and faculty problems of its own but it seems to have come through them.  Shorter has been target of criticism from those outside of the Georgia Baptist Convention for some time and, now, one of its own, Matthew LeHew, seems to have caused, from within, a stir.

LeHew’s Assessment

Caner not only downplays the seriousness of the situation, but goes so far as to make a pivotal false statement regarding the outcome of BPC’s upcoming appeal.”[5] Matthew LeHew

In his criticism of Caner’s statements, Matthew LeHew did not even make a specific assessment about the charlatanry of which Caner has been accused.  Rather he focused solely on Caner’s claims about Brewton-Parker’s accreditation.  LeHew addressed the following claims made by Ergun Caner:

(1) The claim that Brewton Parker remains accredited and will continue to be accredited.

In response to this claim, LeHew noted that while technically true, it is also “disingenuous”[6]. LeHew observed that, since SACS has already voted to remove Brewton-Parker from membership, its “continued accreditation is a mere technicality pending an appeal in August (2014).”[7] LeHew claimed that the truth is as follows: “(Brewton Parker’s) accrediting agency has voted to kick (it) out, but (it’s) got an appeal coming up that is literally (it’s) last chance.” LeHew pointed out that Brewton-Parker, despite its loss of membership, continues to assure (students’) parents that situation is fine.

(2) The claim that removal of Brewton-Parker’s accreditation is a long process.

In response to this claim, LeHew pointed out that while accreditation removal is a long process, Brewton-Parker is at the end of it.  The hearing in August is the final part.  LeHew, showing his expertise on accreditation, pointed out that SACS Principles of Accreditation “forbid an institution from being on Probation for over two years, even with good cause.”[8]

(3) The claim that Brewton Parker will maintain its accreditation even if the appeals process does not go well.

In response to this claim, LeHew remarked, “…that portion of the video (where Caner makes the claim above)…must be seen to be believed. I confess I’ve never seen Caner in person, nor have I heard him speak in public. I don’t know if what I’m interpreting in the video as supreme levels of condescension and smugness are misattributed aspects of his regular speaking tone.”[9]  LeHew made it clear that if the appeals process does not go well, Brewton-Parker will have no more opportunities. Interestingly enough, this is the very same claim that Caner himself made in an interview with Gerald Harris of the Christian Index in March of 2014.  When asked by Harris about the SACS accreditation review, Caner stated, “…this is the year we are going to hit it out of the park or strike out.”  Now, upon learning that his college has swung and missed at strike three, Caner is claiming that there are more innings yet to play!  Once again, Caner has been caught making “factual statements that are self-contradictory.” The ever-enabled Caner, it seems, just can’t help himself.

(4) The claim that every Brewton-Parker degree transfers

In response to this claim, LeHew noted that, if accreditation is lost, credits earned at the school will not be guaranteed transferable and undergraduate degrees granted by the school cannot be guaranteed to count towards graduate school.

(5) The claims that Brewton-Parker has “all the financial resources, including federal aid.”

In response to this claim, LeHew noted that, if accreditation is lost, students will lose the ability to receive federal financial aid through Title IV.

(6) The claim that Brewton-Parker will not lose its accreditation for a moment.

In response to this claim, LeHew pointed out that even if Brewton-Parker files and injunction to delay its loss of accreditation, it will be unaccredited during the time before the injunction is filed.  Of course, if the injunction fails, it will certainly lose accreditation.

(7) The claim that Brewton Parker is in the black and has a balanced budget for next year.

In response to this claim, LeHew stated, “(Caner) said that (Brewton-Parker College) isn’t in deficit, but doesn’t mention debt. Caner’s justification of BPC’s financial situation is actually very restricted, and his response doesn’t actually indicate compliance with the Principles of Accreditation at all…And if Caner refuses to change anything leading up to the August appeal, then it’s a virtual guarantee that it will be denied, and there’s little reason for a judge to issue any kind of preliminary injunction.”[10]  As an accountant, I can appreciate LeHew’s appeal to hard numbers here.  LeHew observed that Brewton-Parker’s liabilities were a little over 50% of the size of their assets.  In accounting parlance, this is called a going concern problem.  When an organization’s financial statements indicate a doubt in its ability to continue, it’s usually a sign of impending doom.

“…I know I’m an idiot.” Ergun Caner

To conclude his criticism of Caner, LeHew stated:  “A selfie video from the president doesn’t change the fact that an adverse decision will result in the devaluation of all active students’ degrees, as well as their inability to pay for their education. Private colleges without any other institutional accreditation don’t simply ‘bounce back’ from those circumstances.”[11]LeHew also offered a seemingly token statement encouraging Christians to pray for Brewton-Parker and its faculty, staff, and students.  However, he also calls upon his readers to “…remember that (SACS) isn’t an enemy or a persecutor. The institution isn’t facing an external adversarial organization, and there should be no rallying cry for Christians to ‘stand’ against such. Rather, the institution is coming to terms with the consequences of its own internal decisions…” Unfortunately, for LeHew, he is coming to terms with the consequences his own internal decision to post a criticism of a Georgia Baptist Institution.  His job may now be in jeopardy, while the future and security of men like former Brewton-Parker President Mike Simoneaux and Georgia Baptist Convention President and Former Brewton-Parker Trustee Don Hattaway, who have managed Brewton-Parker into the ground, seem quite secure.  Unfortunately, Shorter University itself, also managed (to a degree) by Hattaway is no stranger to the consequences of its own internal decisions.

Shorter College and the Georgia Baptist Life Style

“I want to take personal offense to Caner’s insinuation when he said ‘School after school after school has had to deal with this, including our Baptist brothers and sisters, even those here in Georgia.’ No GBC school has faced a revocation to its accreditation. If he’s alluding to Shorter being placed on Warning in 2013 (and removed in 2014), then it betrays his thorough lack of understanding of the accreditation process. Shorter did NOT go through what BPC is going through.”[12] Matthew LeHew

Just a short drive to Rome on Highway 411 from my home in Cartersville, Georgia is Shorter University. Shorter is a Georgia Baptist institution that boasted a Fall 2013 enrollment of 2,636; it offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines.  The University, established in 1873, is a familiar site to anyone traveling along Shorter Avenue. “A twisting driveway leads up from a busy street, past a gatehouse to the Georgian quad where twin gates stand. The gates are emblazoned with mottoes: ‘ENTER TO LEARN’ faces outward; ‘GO FORTH TO SERVE’ faces inward.” In 2002, the college was the scene of a battle for institutional control.  Shorter’s erstwhile board of trustees voted to sever the University’s ties with the Georgia Baptist Convention.  A legal contest ensued.  In 2005, through a decision of the Georgia Supreme Court, Georgia Baptist Convention control was solidified. The board of trustees was soon to be filled with supporters of Georgia Baptist Convention control. In Late 2011, Shorter issued a four-point “lifestyle statement” that all faculty and staff are required to sign if they wished to remain employed. It reads: shorter lifestyleThe issuance of the statement resulted in vociferous protests from many liberals and academics.  As a Georgia Baptist, I supported the statement…and still do.  The fact is there were some professors teaching material in a way that contradicted a biblical worldview.  Furthermore, former Chairman of the Shorter Board of Trustees, Nelson Price, lamented that Shorter had a reputation as “a hotbed of homosexuality since the late 1970s.”  Such activity and such a reputation have no place in a Christian college…period…end of discussion. As it became apparent that the lifestyle statement would not be scrapped, faculty and staff left in droves.  I kept a careful watch of the activity, reading the comments of dissenters and even watching an on-line video of protesters outside the college.  I carefully took notice of the names of protesters and dissenters.  I Googled them and searched for them on Facebook.  My purpose in doing so was to contact them and witness to them.  That’s one of the things I love about the digital age.  Information and people are closer than ever before.  Here in the Bible belt white (and black) southerners all look like Christians.  Public statements against biblical standards help flush out lost people better than a traveling evangelist who tells congregants to bow their heads and raise their hands if they aren’t sure about eternity. I tried to strike up a conversation on Facebook with one of the alumni protestors, Brentz Turner, to no avail. I tried to contact Cory Lowe, another protestor, through his website, also to no avail. I emailed [name redacted at her request], another dissenting shorter alumnus.   [name redacted at her request] did respond to my attempts at communication. After telling [name redacted at her request], that the lifestyle statement seemed fair given that Shorter was run by Southern Baptists, she responded:

“Southern Baptists are not running Shorter. Fundamentalists are”

The Southern Baptist Confession of Faith is a fundamentalist confession. I’m fundamentalist. Critics like [name redacted at her request] found little sympathy with me.  Sadly, I believe [name redacted at her request] and many others who would protest such a lifestyle statement to be lost.  I was satisfied with the stand that Shorter and Georgia Baptist Convention were taking.  At the time, I was a member of Tabernacle Baptist ChurchThree members of that church were on the Shorter Board of Trustees.  One of those members was my Pastor, Dr. Don Hattaway, who is now the President of the Georgia Baptist Convention. In addition to serving on the board at Shorter, Hattaway was formerly the chairman of the Board of Trustees at Brewton-Parker College, his alma mater.  At the time, I was unaware of the troubles at Brewton-Parker.  I did not know that my own pastor was involved in running what I’ve come to think of as an inept and corrupt institution (Brewton-Parker).  I’m thankful that the Georgia Baptist Convention took a biblical stand with regards to the situation at Shorter; however, there is no excuse for its failure to uphold its own standard of righteousness.  The Georgia Baptist Convention held the liberals employed at Shorter accountable but it hasn’t done so with Ergun Caner and Brewton-Parker College.  If you’re thinking that Georgia Baptist Convention Leadership is going do the right thing where Brewton-Parker and Ergun Caner are concerned, you might want to think again.

Ergun Caner with Don Hattaway at Brewton-Parker in 2014

Financial Instability or Religious Persecution?

“Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Proverbs 16:18

Rather than taking accountability for and coming to terms with the consequences of Brewton Parker’s internal decisions, Brewton-Parker trustee Bucky Kennedy went on the TV news claiming that SACS is persecuting Brewton-Parker because it is “small, rural, and faith based.”  In the light of the real religious persecution that has recently been perpetrated upon Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and Jake Phillips, Kennedy’s straw man appeal to religious persecution is especially despicable. Rather than take responsibility for the inept management of men like himself, Hattaway, Ergun Caner, and Mike Simoneaux, Kennedy is trying to gin up anti-intellectual sentiment against SACS amongst the South Georgia country folk.  This is, very plainly, bad form.  Either Kennedy is a buffoon or he is a deceiver.  In either case, he’s proved himself unqualified to run an institution of higher learning. This raises the question of the general competence of professional pastors to lead colleges in the state of Georgia.  Exactly what are their qualifications?  Shorter was recently put on warning with SACS.  Truett-McConnell College, a Georgia Baptist institution run by Ergun Caner’s brother Emir, was recently labeled a “dropout factory” with a 14% graduation rate by Time Magazine.   Brewton-Parker has been removed from SACS membership for “failing to exercise appropriate control over all its financial resources.”  Think about it, the federal government is going to stop giving financial aid to students to attend Brewton-Parker.  The federal government…thinks funding Brewton-Parker…is wasteful.  Yet, hundreds of Georgia Baptist Churches continue to fund it every week through the cooperative program.  Those same churches pay the salaries of the pastors who have taken it upon themselves to become educational administrators. Let’s recall what got Brewton-Parker into its financial mess in the first place (the one it has tried to solve by hiring the charlatan Ergun Caner).  It wasn’t religious persecution.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, it was a financial scandal (involving the misuse of federal student financial aid) and its immoral treatment of the whistle-blower, Martha Faw, who called the scandal to light.  Brewton-Parker paid $4 million to settle a lawsuit related to that financial scandal.  It was a penalty from which they seem unable to recover.

Brewton-Parker Appeals to Mammon

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”Matthew 6:24

Rather than just admitting failure, cutting its losses, and advising students and faculty to seek educational fulfillment elsewhere (like Shorter or one of the other hundred or so college in Georgia), Brewton-Parker has announced “Stand with Brewton Parker Day.”  Brewton-Parker has released a statement (likely worded by VP of Communications Peter Lumpkins) reading, “Brewton-Parker College (BPC) has been an icon of southeast Georgia for well over a century. Few people living in the region remain unaffected by this Georgia Baptist institution. Tens of thousands of college graduates have literally served all over the globe as pastors, missionaries, church-planters, teachers, scholars, business owners, farmers, lawyers, you name it. Our past is glorious because our God is glorious. Our future will be no less glorious because our God is no less glorious!” Apparently such a statement isn’t enough; it’s website lists three reasons why people should stand with Brewton-Parker:

(1) We make no apologies to anyone for being a Christian college founded on a Christian worldview. 

It also makes no apologies for the gross incompetence of its leadership and its complete and total lack of accountability. This statement is clearly intended to stir the pot with regards to perceived religious persecution.  Stop and think about this for a minute.  I’m as Baptist as they come.  I’m writing a polemic against Brewton-Parker.  In fact, most polemics I come across about Brewton-Parker and Ergun Caner are from Christians who demand the Georgia Baptist Convention clean up its act.

(2)  Brewton-Parker College remains an economic mainstay of the Mount Vernon region. Every business and livelihood in the area would be negatively affected with many failing were Brewton-Parker College to fail.

Wow! Every business and livelihood would be affected? Brewton-Parker enrolls less than 1,000 students.  It’s not the KIA Plant in West Point!  Furthermore, positive economic impact is not a good reason to support an evil institution.  Doing so puts money above God.

(3) BPC has literally changed communities and regions all over the globe for the past century.

Here’s an experiment for you when you go to church next Sunday.  Ask people if they’ve ever heard of this world-changing “icon.”  Most Georgia Baptist I’ve talked to don’t even know it exists, yet they continue to give wasted tithes and offerings to support it.

Should We Pray For Brewton Parker?

“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” Deuteronomy 31:17

I don’t think, for one second, that God is with Brewton-Parker College or the Georgia Baptist Convention.  Just because a place or organization is “Baptist” in name, doesn’t it make it a God-ordained holy cause.  When I examine Brewton-Parker, all the way from the financial scandal to a board of trustees who were obtuse (or crooked) enough to appoint the charlatan Ergun Caner as a school President, I don’t see a God-honoring institution.  I see a whitewashed tomb whose iniquity is nearly complete. Let the accreditation removal be the straw that broke the camel’s (that was too big to fit through the needle for being puffed up with pride) back.  Good riddance to Brewton-Parker College.  I pray that young people will become world changers for Christ despite the machinations of the good ole boys in the Georgia Baptist Convention.  I pray that Caner and company will repent and turn away from their wicked ways.  Great is the fall of the house whose foundation is built upon the sand.

Fearing God and not Man

“Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the Lord.”  Jeremiah 17:5

Aside from the apathy of every day church-goers, one of the things that disturbs me most about the culture of the Georgia Baptist Convention is the fear of man amongst the pastorate.  These stories I’m telling you aren’t secrets.  They are well documented.  Why aren’t more pastors speaking out?  Is it because they are afraid they won’t get invited to the next big preaching conference?  Is it because they are afraid they will not considered for the next posh Georgia Baptist post? (Georgia Baptist College presidents, for example, make six-figures to run very small colleges).  Are the pastors running the show more concerned with making money and looking out for their friends that looking after their flocks?  Pictures speak a thousand words, so I’ll let these pictures do the talking.

Gerald Harris, interviewing Ergun Caner, Harris is the editor of the Christian Index, a Georgia Baptist Convention news service.

Gerald Harris preaches a conference with Don Hattaway

Influential men like Don Hattaway and Ergun Caner seem to be doing just fine no matter what the outcome of their actions and inactions turn out to be, but who’s looking out for the little guy like Matthew LeHew?  Matthew LeHew told the truth in a helpful way and now he is afraid of losing his job.  Matthew LeHew is an ordained minister with a wife to support.  Why should he have to live in a culture of fear to keep his job? It’s just not fitting.  It’s wrong. Now, because of the culture of fear and secrecy in the Georgia Baptist Convention, I believe Matthew LeHew has taken the first step (taking down his article) towards living a life of compromise.  It’s a step I’ve been tempted to take.

Matthew LeHew with his bride.

I know that people often wonder why I spend so much time on the computer lamenting the problems in my state and national denomination.  I’ve three great jobs, a beautiful wife, three lovely children, and seminary classes for which to study.  Why do I spend my time doing this?  Well, look right there at that picture of Matthew LeHew.  That’s a man with smiling bride and handsome dog who set out to do the right thing and was threatened with job loss…from a Christian institution. One day, my little daughters, God willing, are going to be brides just like Matthew’s wife.  They’ll have a family to look after and their husband will be responsible for supporting it.  I don’t want my daughters and their husbands to feel pressure to compromise God’s will for money…but I know they will feel that pressure.  I hope, when they think of their father, they’ll see an example of a man who resisted it. I’ve already had a Baptist leader try to get me in trouble at one of my jobs for speaking out.  I’m quite certain that calling out the people whom  I’ve called out will limit my options when I graduate seminary.  So be it. People might think I have a personal axe to grind with Don Hattaway.  I don’t. He’s a nice man and a fine preacher.  I sat under his preaching for years and had only two disagreements with his exposition.  He thinks there was an eye of the needle gate in Jerusalem.  I don’t.  He thinks Jephthah’s daughter went to serve as a temple virgin; I think she was sacrificed.  Such disagreements don’t even matter!  It was during one of his sermons that I got under conviction to obey God in believer’s Baptism.  It was under his sermons that I got under the conviction to answer the call to seminary…and it was under conviction that I left his church.  Doing what feels right isn’t always easy and sometimes it means calling on nice people to do the right thing. Don Hattaway…do the right thing.  Matthew LeHew…do the right thing.  Georgia Baptists…do the right thing.

Keep up the Skeer

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.” 2 Chronicles 16:9

This isn’t my first article about the Georgia Baptist Convention and its problem of corruption and it likely won’t be my last.   I’m staying diligent in my calls for justice, repentance, and accountability. The confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forest, who saved the city of Rome, GA from an attacking Union force led by Colonel Abel Streight had a saying, “Get ’em skeered and keep the skeer on ’em.” That’s what I’m doing. Little by little, I know I’m reaching people.  People are seeing something. People are saying something.  Soon, people will do something. If the problems upon which I opine are ignored, people will forget about them.  I conject that scandals in the church have been swept under the rug for years; high-powered preachers aren’t used to having to answer for gross mismanagement of convention funds.  The internet is changing that, for the better, I think. Nathan Bedford Forest was often outmanned and outgunned when he faced an enemy. This was the case when he faced Abel Streight.  However, Forest defeated Streight (as he did many others) by outsmarting him.  Forest did not play by Streight’s rules.  On top of having my job threatened, I’ve had Matthew 18 misapplied to me twice by Georgia Baptist leaders.  I’m done playing by their rules.  After he accepted Abel Streight’s surrender Nathan Bedford Forest told the agitated colonel, “All’s Fair in Love and War.”  Well, Georgia Baptist Convention, I’m done playing by your manmade, legalistic rules of secrecy and fear-mongering. I’m sticking to what the Bible says.  The Bible tells me that men like Matthew LeHew should proclaim the truth boldly when they see a wrong that needs to be righted.  I know I will.  How dare you, Georgia Baptist Convention, make Matthew LeHew feel like his job is in jeopardy while at the same time employing that charlatan Ergun Caner.

Remember, the eye in the sky is watching us all.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] Per Matthew LeHew’s article “Ergun Caner is Wrong About Brewton-Parker’s Accreditation” as published at MatthewLeHew.com
[2] ibid
[3] ibid
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] ibid
[8] ibid
[9] ibid
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] ibud

A Truett-McConnell “Evangelist” Who Doesn’t Need to Think

*Please note that the following statement includes my opinion of the deeds and character of those mentioned based upon the information to which I have been exposed. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled.  Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, alsochains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:32-38

In the spring of 2000, on the evening of my senior prom, I received a letter from the University of Georgia informing me that I had not been accepted to study at that institution. Being understandably upset, I lamented about my situation to my date, Samantha, as we made our way to Tonsmeire Studio to have our picture taken before the big dance.  Samantha’s response to my teenage calamity was rather unsympathetic. “Screw it; go to Truett,” she said.  Samantha was referring to Truett-McConnell college in Cleveland, Georgia.  Among the students at Cartersville High School, Truett-McConnell was known as sort of a college of last resort.  To draw an analogy using the prom, Truett was like the the girl you asked to go to the dance after the girl you first wanted to go with turned you down.

I did not take Samantha’s advice.  Looking back, I think it was a good decision.  You see, there’s a problem at the Georgia Baptist institution that is Truett-McConnell.  Among other things, that school trains students who make statements like this:

Don't need to think

This absolutely stunning comment was made by self-proclaimed “Evangelist” Caleb Stevens in defense of the charlatan Ergun Caner.  Caleb is under the false impression that Ergun Caner is a man of integrity. When presented, by me, with evidence to the contrary, the above tweet was Caleb’s response.

Caleb claims that he does not have to think.  Why?  Ergun Caner’s brother, Emir, is not only Caleb’s mentor but one of his “heroes of the faith.”  Let’s break Caleb’s logic down:

1.  If I respect someone’s brother then that someone is a man of integrity.
2.  I respect Ergun Caner’s brother.
3.  Therefore, Ergun Caner is a man of integrity.

There is no need to think about this, according to Caleb.  Of course, if we do think about it, we can consider a counterexample.  Let’s run Christopher Hitchens and Peter Hitchens through Caleb’s logic. Christopher Hitchens is one of the most vociferous anti-Christian atheists in western history.   His brother, Peter, is a Christian.

1.  If I respect someone’s brother then that someone is a man of integrity.
2.  I respect Christopher Hitchens’ brother.
3.  Therefore, Christopher Hitchens is a man of integrity.

Thinking matters.

Given what Caleb says here ,one must question if students are being taught to think at all at Truett-McConnell!  Of course, it could be the case that Truett-McConnell is a place that attracts the kind of student who doesn’t like to think.  Just look at Caleb Stephens.

At this point, you may be thinking,  “Hold your horses, Seth.  This is just one young student.  It’s not fair to draw a conclusion on the whole college based on what Caleb Stephens says.”

That’s a good thought, but here’s the problem: If we can trust Caleb’s website, he is archetypal of a student that Truett-McConnell wants.  Here’s what Emir Caner, President of Truett-McConnell College, has to say about Caleb Stephens on the “References” section of Caleb’s site:

If revival will come to America, it will come as God calls out young men like Caleb who will preach the love of Christ to a lost world.”

Caleb has a published biography on his website. (One that he apparently wrote about himself in the third person.)  It bothers me.  Here’s why:

Caleb’s major is “Christian Studies/Theology.”  Both he and his fiancee are student interns at FBC Atlanta.  Given his education and connections, Caleb will likely be appearing in a pulpit near you in the near future…and he doesn’t have to think.  His “Statement of Faith” page makes that quite apparent.  There, as an article of faith, he states:

I believe in an invitation. Every time we see Jesus call someone in Scripture He calls them publicly.I believe in the Sinners Prayer.

I have no problem with invitations or (sincere) sinner’s prayers, but these things aren’t articles of faith and there is certainly no biblical formula for a “sinner’s prayer”.  What these things are, when included in the articles of faith of a self-proclaimed Georgia Baptist “Evangelist”, are political firebombs.

The website of this archetypal Truett-McConnell student is just scratching the surface of the real problem that’s brewing around the body of Christ.  The fox, my friends, is in the hen house and something needs to be done about it.

Why is a Georgia Baptist Convention school conditioning students not to think?  Why is Emir Caner considered a hero of the faith this student (or anyone)?  Why does “Evangelist” Caleb Stephens respond to criticism of a Caner brother by calling a stranger a name?

Here’s the deal.  I’m not writing this piece to run down some guy I’ve never met in the flesh.  He’s wrong, he’s human, and he’s young.  I’m wrong sometimes, too, and was so a lot more when I was younger.  I’m not trying to despise Caleb’s youth.  I’m just trying to point out evidence of a problem.  Bad men are using decisionism as a political tool to play upon the fears of an aging church population in order to gain power and positions of influence.  It’s either that…or these men are just too obtuse to be fit for leadership (which declining baptism numbers may indicate).

If you’re bothered by what’s going on, you need to turn to the person on either side of you at church and consider if he is the target market for the kind of schilling that gets preached from the Truett-McConnell crowd’s pulpits.

I, myself, have decided to follow Jesus…no turning back…no turning back.  When I look ahead and beside me.  I don’t see Truett-McConnell types with me.  I’m a thinking Christian.  I hope you are, too.

 

Fair Game? Scientology, Ergun Caner, Lawsuits, and the Georgia Baptist Convention

*Please note that the following statement includes my opinion of the deeds and character of Ergun Caner, Georgia Baptist Leadership, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Church of Scientology based upon information to which I have been exposed.  

“The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.”  L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology

I’m quite certain that Ergun Caner is not a Scientologist.  However, while I watched a recent presentation on Scientology by Dr. James Walker, President of the Watchman Fellowship, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the charlatan, Dr. Ergun Caner, had adopted some tactics from the Church of Scientology’s playbook.     In this piece, I’ll explore the reasons that I drew a connection between the litigious methods of the Church of Scientology and the exploits of Ergun Caner, the charlatan.  Drawing on that connection, I’ll explore the negative effects that supporting a man such as Ergun Caner can have on members of the Body of Christ.  Finally, I’ll speak to the ignorance that the Georgia Baptist Convention leadership (which hired Ergun Caner to be President of Brewton-Parker College) depends on to keep its good-ole-boy network funded by the tithes and offerings of the faithful, committed, rank-and-file, bible-beveling Christians who fill and fund the pews of Georgia Baptist Churches every Sunday.

Learning About Scientology

“…always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace. Don’t ever defend. Always attack.” L. Ron Hubbard

“Humbled before God/Defiant before Pharisees/Innocent before the Consistory. Bullies/Trolls: I Fight Back”  Ergun Caner

The Watchman Fellowship is “an independent Christian research and apologetics ministry focusing on new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age.” As such, it’s President, Dr. James Walker teaches Christians about the conflicts between Scientology and Christianity.  As noted above, I recently watched James Walker give an informative presentation on Scientology.  Dr. Walker told one story about the Watchman Fellowship being sued by the Church of Scientology for $9.5 million for perceived damages and another story about the Watchmen Fellowship Office being infiltrated by a Scientology operative.  Somehow the Church of Scientology’s lawyers knew that Dr. Walker’s organization was in possession of secretive Church of Scientology “Operating Thetan literature” and that this literature was “in the Texas office “5th door on the left, 15th filing cabinet, second drawer.”  That’s creepy stuff.  There’s good reason that the Church of Scientology wouldn’t want this secretive information to get out to the general public.  I’ll try to be brief and fair in explaining why:

  1. Scientology involves the practice of “auditing.”  Members of the church go through auditing in order to become “clear” from the effects of what is known as “the reactive mind.”
  2. After become clear, a scientologist can undergo further auditing to become an “Operating Thetan
  3. The cost of these auditing sessions is considerable and can run into the hundreds of thousands, according to Dr. Walker.
  4. At operating Thetan Level III, the scientologist learns about Xenu , the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, who 75 million years ago, brought billions of his people to Earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them using hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology scriptures hold that the essences of these many people remain, and that they form around people in modern times, causing them spiritual harm.

Would you pay six figures for auditing treatment if you knew that you were going to learn about Xenu towards the end of it?  Your answer to that will probably inform your thinking on why the Church of Scientology is known to be litigious and why it sued The Watchman Fellowship for $9.5 million dollars.  That particular suit never went to court and the two parties’ agreed, at the behest of the Church of Scientology, not to sue each other for any offense committed in the past 10,000,000 years.  Sound ridiculous?

Lawsuits often are ridiculous, but they are also costly and annoying.  That is perhaps why L. Ron Hubbard said this in regards to lawsuits:

 “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.”

Lawsuits can put one’s detractors out of business, especially if those detractors already have problems of their own.  Dr. Walker noted in his presentation that, through the use of lawsuits, the Church of Scientology has confiscated materials from its detractors.  In other words, these (embarrassing) materials (about Xenu) simply disappear from public view.

James Walker and Ergun Caner: The Watchman Connection

“For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17)

So what does any of this business with Scientology, James Walker, The Watchman Fellowship, and Lawsuits have to do with Ergun Caner?   Ergun Caner is a former member of the Board of the Watchman Fellowship.  James Walker is an adjunct Professor at Arlington Baptist College, the college where Ergun Caner got a job as Vice President after his dismissal from Liberty University.   Dr. Walker came out with the following statement about Ergun Caner after the charlatan’ Caner’s lies were first exposed:

“I am saddened to see some Christians joining forces with Muslim bloggers to charge that Dr. Ergun Caner is a ‘fake’ ex-Muslim.  I amazed that some Christian bloggers would even claim that Dr. Caner invented the whole story of becoming a Christian after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in order to sell books.  I have known Ergun Caner since the early 1990s and have firsthand knowledge that his claim to be a former Muslim who converted to Christ is consistent with his testimony a decade before 9/11.  Now I’m even reading a popular Christian blogger who claims that Ergun Caner is a fake Christian who never converted to Christ at all and was never born again.  This has gone far enough.  Dr. Ergun Caner is a former Sunni Muslim who experienced the grace of Christ when God saved him.  I am thankful to know that he is my brother in Christ.”

Walker and Caner have known each other for a long time.  Do you think Ergun Caner has ever heard James Walker talk about Scientology’s lawsuit tactics?  It’s not a stretch to think that he has.  It might help explain why Ergun Caner’s sermons have almost all but disappeared from the internet since he was exposed as a charlatan.  It seems that whenever someone finds a sermon by Ergun Caner posted on a church website or YouTube, it quickly gets taken down.  There’s even a term that has been coined for this: Canerization!  Hours of recordings of Ergun Caner telling lies have disappeared from the internet.  (I think it’s clear that, in many cases, Caner’s friends remove these sermons as a favor to him) One has to wonder if people fear being sued by Ergun Caner for leaving such material accessible online.  Is this just unfounded conjecture?  Unfortunately, it has a reasonable basis.  Ergun Caner is currently engaged in a lawsuit with an Arizona Pastor named Jason Smathers and another man (who is unemployed) named Jonathan Autry.

Jason Smathers obtained video tape of Ergun Caner speaking before and lying to the United States Marine Core.  Pastor Smathers obtained these tapes via a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them to YouTube.  You can’t find them on YouTube now because due to a copyright claim from Caner, the videos have been removed from the internet while the claim is being litigated. This is almost the exact same tactic that the Church of Scientology uses to bury its own secret (and embarrassing) information.   Caner is using this tactic to suppress embarrassing information about himself…and he’s suing a fellow Christian to do it.  I’m not going to comment on the prohibitions of suing fellow Christians in scripture, that’s another issue and it’s been blogged about elsewhere.  Apologist James White has called it “a clear and unquestionable violation of Scriptural Commands.”  Sadly, Jason Smathers and Autry are easy targets for lawsuits.  They are by no means wealthy and have struggled financially to defend the suit.  Like Caner, Smathers has a checkered past of his own.  However, Smathers has overcome that past to find grace in the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, he’s being sued by a man who claims to be a fellow Christian for the crime of trying to keep a liar accountable.  Caner’s terms are no less absurd than those of the church of Scientology.  According to Autry,

Dr. Caner then requested that I make my wife and children ages four, five, and seven sign non-disparagement agreements. My wife and children have nothing to do with this case and never posted any videos about Dr. Caner. Dr. Caner apparently seeks to harass my wife for no reason other than her marriage to me and children for no reason other than their relationship with me.”

Sound ridiculous?

This is shame.  I’d expect it out of the Church of Scientology, but this lawsuit is an action taken by the President of a Georgia Baptist college and self-proclaimed Christian Apologist.  If Caner were not a charlatan or were truly repentant of his lies, he’d have nothing to hide.  However, like L. Ron Hubbard, Caner has gotten rich off a ridiculous story and now wants to hide the truth from coming out and staying out.

It’s sad.  What’s even sadder is the fact that Caner is still supported by many Baptist leaders, namely those in Georgia who installed him as President of Brewton-Parker College.

Suspicious Minds: Negative Effects on the Body of Christ

“We can’t go on together, With suspicious minds, And we can’t build our dreams, On suspicious minds”  Mark James

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2)

Before hearing his presentation on Scientology, I listened to another presentation by Dr. James Walker.  The presentation included material on psychic claims and contrasted psychic activity inspired by demonic activity with fake psychic activity perpetrated by charlatans.  It was interesting. I even asked him a question at the end of his talk.  However, I was distracted  in my mind during  a large part of the presentation.  Being aware of his connections to and defense of Caner, I couldn’t help but wonder if Dr. Walker was for real.  Like Ergun Caner, Dr. Walker is a Christian Apologist who came to Christianity from another religious background.  Dr. Walker is a former Mormon and has done much work in exposing the erroneous doctrines of that religion…but I was doubting his sincerity while I listened to him speak.  Even his handout material for the talk cited an article edited by Ergun Caner…the doubt was just eating away at me.  I had to tell myself to snap out of it.

After Dr. Walker’s talk was over, some friends and I approached Dr. Walker about his Caner connections.  He stood by his statement supporting Caner, but if you look at it closely, it never denies Caner lied.  Dr. Walker informed us that Caner was on the board of the Watchmen Fellowship but that Caner had never even attended a board meeting.  After taking to him, I believe Dr. Walker is a faithful Christian and true minister of the gospel who helps people come out of false religion to faith in Jesus Christ.  Of course, I would have had no reason to doubt that he was if he never made comments in defense of Ergun Caner, a known charlatan and profiteer.

The Caner situation has caused me to doubt the sincerity of numerous notable Southern and Georgia Baptist leaders.  It’s a real shame because I’ve always held these men in such high esteem.  A local pastor recently gave me some wise counsel on the matter.  He told me that just because these men may have erred, it doesn’t negate their biblical teaching.  That was comforting to me, but what if I was a seeker looking from the outside in instead of a life-long Christian firmly grounded in the faith?  When I see influential leaders defending Caner, it is disheartening.  It really just makes me sad.  Many of these men are pastors who are highly regarded by their congregations.  Yet, they saw fit to install a defiant charlatan like Ergun Caner as President of Brewton-Parker College. It’s an ignominious insinuation, yes, but per the college’s IRS Form 990 listed on Guidestar, In 2012, total compensation for the president of Brewton-Parker college was $153,371. The college received over $2.8 million from GA Baptists.  That’s a lot of money to me, how about you?

One friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, put it this way:

“Caner is a terrible hire.  It may not matter as everything I see indicates that Brewton-Parker College will lose its accreditation and may be forced to file for bankruptcy, but that doesn’t absolve the Trustees.   There is a level of corruption among the Trustees at  Brewton-Parker College that should be a source of embarrassment for members of Georgia Baptist churches.  The way in which they have dug in their heels or doubled down and attacked the people who offer genuine, concerned criticism is appalling… This is what happens when Christians or Baptists specifically attach themselves to other men and become followers of those men rather than followers of Christ who seek truth and justice.  It’s just like politics, it forces you defend terrible positions because ‘That’s our guy.  And if he goes down, we go down!’  The good ole boy network is bad enough in politics; it’s terribly disheartening when it comes to the Church… Someone raised the point recently that Caner didn’t hire himself, that the Trustees are to blame and that they have abandoned their responsibility and become corrupted.”

I can’t say it any better.  I’ll add this.  Jesus Christ is my guy.  If he goes down, I go down.

Ignorance: Friend to the Corrupt

“A South politician preaches to the poor white man, ’You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,’ they explain. And the Negro’s name, Is used it is plain, For the politician’s gain,As he rises to fame. And the poor white remains. On the caboose of the train, But it ain’t him to blame. He’s only a pawn in their game”
– Bob Dylan

“Who watches the watchmen?” – Juvenal

“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

The last two Baptists I told about the Caner situation didn’t even know Brewton-Parker College existed and hadn’t ever heard of Ergun Caner apart from me telling them about him.  They were completely ignorant of the situation.  Yet, their tithes and offerings went to fund Brewton-Parker.

If you are ignorant of Caner’s lies here are twelve of them:

1) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner was born in Istanbul, Turkey, as he claimed.
2) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner always lived in “majority Muslim countries” as he repeatedly told audiences during sermons.
3) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner studied jihad in a madrassa in Istanbul.
4) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner studied jihad in a madrassa in Beirut.
5) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner studied jihad in a madrassa in Cairo.
6) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner is able to speak Arabic.
7) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner has debated imams in mosques in Arabic (as his own website advertised).
8) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner has engaged in more than sixty debates (he claimed in 2006 75 such debates) with Muslim leaders.
9) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner’s father was surrounded by “caliphs” when he died (there are no caliphs today).
10) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner’s father brought multiple wives with him to America.
11) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner came to the United States in 1978 or 1979 (as his biography on the Liberty website claimed until 2010).
12) It is a falsehood that Ergun Caner learned English by watching US television programs in Turkey.

Is your pastor and church still funding this college and the corrupt men who run it while the recordings of Caner slowly disappear?  You’ve read this.  You’re not ignorant anymore.  What are you doing to do with your knowledge?

You can start this Sunday.  Don’t give to any church fund that will fund the Georgia Baptist Convention.  You can designate your tithes and offerings to missions, benevolence, or any other specific program your church has.  You can send money to Watchmen Fellowship and Jason Smathers.  You can also use your good name to tell others about this unacceptable situation.

Ask yourself what your tax rate is?  What percent of your money do you pay in local, state, and federal taxes?  Are you ever frustrated that the government isn’t held accountable and that voters are kept ignorant of important issues by people corrupted with power?  If you are a faithful tither, you are giving 10% of your money…God’s money…to your local church.

Remember this; there is no biblical prescription for your church to give the Brewton-Parker or the Georgia Baptist Convention.  Hold them accountable by holding your pastor accountable by holding yourself accountable.

As we all know, God is holding us all accountable.

 

Brewton Parker, Ergun Caner and the Issue of Stewardship: A Georgia Baptist Reaction and Solution – Part II, The Abilene Exclusion

*Please note that the following statement includes my opinion of the deeds and character of Ergun Caner and Georgia Baptist Leadership based upon the information to which I have been exposed.  Please note that I wrote this very late.  Let’s be forgiving Christians…forgive my typos.

“Many ministers today are governed by popularity and not by integrity, by statistics and not by Scripture.” – Warren W. Wiersbe

“Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.” Bill Harrell

In my last post, I laid out the proper Georgia Baptist reaction to the hiring of the charlatan Dr. Ergun Caner at Brewton Parker and a solution to the problem it presents.  In that post, I concluded as follows: “My advice to all who agree with me is to deny funding to any organization, even your own church, which funds the work of Brewton-Parker College.” After reading that post, a pastor whom I respect stated the following to me:

“What is your understanding of how the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) can intervene at this moment to rectify the Brewton-Parker College problem?…You haven’t shown the connection between your proposed solutions and the problem you so eloquently identify.”

In this follow-up post, I will (1) express my understanding of how the GBC can intervene at this moment to rectify the Brewton-Parker College problem with respect to its hiring of Dr. Caner, (2) show the connection between the proposed solution and the identified problem, (3) lay out a proposed course of action for those who choose to implement the proposed solution (which I’ll call the Abilene Exclusion), and (4) express responses to potential objections to the proposed solution.

Commendations and Information

Before commenting further, I would like to express appreciation and commendation to the pastor I mention above.  He took the time to keep a fellow brother in Christ accountable for his words and actions.  He did so in a humble manner, in truth and love.  As the terror of the Caner situation fell upon Georgia Baptists, he was one of the first men whose counsel I sought on the proper course of action to take.  I think I was wise to do so.  I would further like to commend this pastor for recognizing that there is a problem to rectify.   This is not an issue about which we can keep our heads in the sand.  Caner’s hiring is simply unacceptable.  That’s what my previous post was all about…accountability.  Georgia Baptists must keep ourselves, our churches, and our convention accountable.  Thank God the Lord sent the brother above to keep me accountable. If you think I am in the wrong, please let me know.

Cooperative Program 101

Before addressing the four goals that I have stated above, I think it would be prudent to provide some information about how the Southern Baptist cooperative program works.  This is because defunding the GBC potentially affects the cooperative program. Although I am a life-long attendee of Southern Baptist Churches, I did not know how the program operated until I took a denominational orientation course in seminary.  Perhaps many of those reading this are in the same boat.  All Baptist Churches are independent by nature and not subject to any organizational authority.  What makes a Baptist church Southern Baptist is its voluntary participation in the cooperative program of the Southern Baptist Convention. Participating churches give a portion of their revenues (a minimum of $250 as of 2000) to state conventions which then pass a portion of that funding to the national convention.  This allows small churches to combine efforts to build God’s kingdom (missions, education, charity, etc…)  The Georgia Baptist Convention hopes to take in $41,800,000 in cooperative program revenue in 2013; 40.18% of that amount is earmarked to fund Georgia Baptist causes.  One of those causes is Brewton-Parker College.  That is why the defunding of the Georgia Baptist Convention (and Brewton-Parker College) starts on the local church level.

A Word about Tithing, Giving, and the Cooperative Program

It’s important to note that the cooperative program is a-biblical (not in the bible).  Notice it’s not unbiblical (against the Bible).  In other words, the cooperative program is neither proscribed nor prescribed in scripture.  There is no biblical mandate to give to the cooperative program.  It’s just a method by which small churches can create economies of scale while doing Kingdom work.  When you tithe to your local Georgia Baptist church, a portion of that money goes to fund the Georgia Baptist Convention.  I am calling on all Georgia Baptists to defund the Georgia Baptist Convention, but I am not calling on anyone to stop tithing. I believe that tithing is a biblically sound practice.  This is what I’ve always been taught by my pastors and what I would teach if I was a pastor.  That doesn’t make it right.  What makes something right is it being biblical.  Theologians I respect would disagree with me that tithing is biblically mandated for New Testament Christians.  The scope of this post does not include a biblical treatment in support of tithing; I am working with the assumption that tithing is biblical.  Even if you disagree with me on tithing, I assume that you still give to your church in some capacity. Whether we call what we when we give “tithing” or not, the fact remains that the church electric bill is not going to pay itself.  If you’re not giving to your church, the charlatan Ergun Caner’s hire is not your biggest problem.  You’re stealing from the Lord and your greed is a bigger one…but I digress.  The issue here is not what percentage a Christian should give to the church or what he calls his gift, but the giving itself.  (Names aren’t important…unless you are changing your name from “Butch” to “Mehmet” in order to cash in on 9/11 hysteria.)  The issue is here is giving.  As I noted in my previous post, we are stewards of the money God allows us to give.  As Georgia Baptists, we give money to our churches and our churches give money to GBC through the cooperative program.

Issue 1: Can the GBC Intervene to Rectify the Caner Situation?

The most obvious answer is not necessarily the right one.  It’s tempting to just say, “Fire the charlatan Ergun Caner,”…but the charlatan Ergun Caner didn’t hire himself.  The vote to hire Caner was unanimous trustees, who clearly can’t be trusted to hire a biblically qualified administrator; they have erred mightily.  But is removing the trustees a feasible course of action?  That would leave a void of experienced management at Brewton-Parker.  Of course, the college is in shambles so maybe that isn’t such a bad idea.  Removing the trustees might be the final nail in Brewton-Parker’s coffin or it might be rolling away a stone.  Whatever the case, make no mistake; the GBC does have the power to remove the trustees.  However, according to a source within GBC leadership, “The convention cannot have undue influence over the trustees without violating the standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).”  SACS is the educational body that accredits the institution. Brewton-Parker is already on the verge of losing its accreditation.  So what can the Georgia Baptist convention do to rectify this situation?  Firing Caner, removing the trustees, or ceasing to support the school altogether are viable options to do the right thing.  Doing any of the preceding might damage the school beyond recovery (if it is not already so damaged). Remember, I’m not in search of a solution to save Brewton-Parker.  The college may not even be salvageable. As one Brewton-Parker alum recently told me, “I’m not sure how much longer BPC can struggle to survive…back in the 90’s a huge financial aid scandal…crippled the school, and they have been trying to crawl out of the hole ever since. Instead of making God-honoring decisions, I believe that they have and continue to make desperation moves to try to survive. One would think they could learn from their mistakes.”  It does not appear that they have learned.  So what of the fate of Brewton Parker?  Who knows? This is a matter of personal stewardship.  Whatever may become of Brewton-Parker, the individual Christian cannot be derelict in his duty to be a good and faithful steward of God’s resources.  Funding Brewton-Parker is a dereliction.

Issue 2: Connecting the Problem and the Solution

Cooperative Program Funding is the major source of GBC income. Individuals, like you and me, fund the local church. To make the connection, just follow the money trail:

Individual Christian àLocal ChurchàGeorgia Baptist ConventionàBrewton ParkeràThe Charlatan Ergun Caner

This is not only a money trail, but a trail of accountability.  It is up to the individual Christian to make the leadership of his local church aware of this stewardship issue.  If the local church recognizes the problem and agrees to cease its gifts to the GBC and/or Brewton-Parker (as we will discuss below), then great.  If the local church does not agree to cease its gifts to the GBC and/or Brewton-Parker, then the individual Christian has an action to take: Practice good stewardship by ceasing to give to that church.

Issue 3, Part 1:  A Solution – The Abilene Exclusion

In 2011, Abilene Baptist Church took issue with three causes funded by Cooperative Program funds: Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, and the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.  Under the leadership of its Pastor, Bill Harrell, (himself a former Vice President of the GBC and Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee) Abilene Baptist Church voted to exclude those causes from its gifts to the Georgia and Southern Baptist conventions.  This was unprecedented, it epitomized free-market creative destruction, and it was simple.  Whether one agrees with his stances on the three causes above or not, Bill Harrell and his church stood up for what they thought was right.  They tried to be faithful stewards.  I think Pastor Harrell opined correctly when he stated, “Most of our Southern Baptist people are just tending to the business of the Kingdom in their part of the world unaware of the forces that are in play and what those forces are trying to achieve and indeed are achieving with much success.”  Most Georgia Baptists do not even know who the charlatan Ergun Caner is.  They are just living their lives, coming to church on Sunday, and faithfully placing their tithes in the offering plate.  If you are reading this blog or you read my last one, you know who the charlatan Egrun Caner is.  You have a responsibility to keep others and yourself accountable by defunding the errant institution that put him in a position of Georgia Baptist leadership.  This may seem difficult, but it is the right thing to do.  Harrell stated on the occasion church’s decision to exclude some of its funding from certain causes, “I know that what I have said will be decried as harsh, but we are dealing with harsh realities in the SBC.” Even in church life, we live in a fallen world.  However, so rarely does such a solution to the fallen world present itself to us.  All your church needs to do is tell the GBC to exclude its gifts from going to Brewton-Parker.  This can be done without leaving the cooperative program, without defunding the entire GBC, and without giving up influence for moral change in the GBC.  My solution is simple, implement the Abilene Exclusion.  Also, be aware that it is possible to give to the Southern Baptist Convention directly and bypass the GBC altogether.

Issue 3, Part 2:  A Solution – The Abilene Exclusion

May I suggest the following course of action when education your church about the need to responsibly steward its funds by defunding the charlatan Ergun Caner.

  1. Contact your church’s senior pastor, executive pastor, or financial decision makers.
  2. Ask them to agree with the following: “If a person or entity is biblically unqualified, then its ministry should not be funded by the local church.”  Give an example of something easy to agree with like a women’s health clinic that performs abortions or a college that hires liberal homosexual professors. If leadership does not agree with this conditional statement, I suggest you leave the church.  Entities like these should never be funded.
  3. Ask them to agree with the following: “If Dr. Ergun Caner intentionally lied and then denied doing so; he is unqualified for service in Christian leadership no matter what the outcome of committee investigations have been.”  Again, I suggest you leave the church if leadership cannot agree with the statement.
  4. Present to them the case against the charlatan Ergun Caner.  He clearly lied intentionally to benefit himself.  Anyone who can’t see this is too sold on his own ideology that he is not fit for leadership.
  5. Ask them to defund the GBC or implement the Abilene Exclusion.  It’s an easy solution.

Issue 4:  Addressing Potential Exceptions

I can see many potential objections to my proposed solution, the Abilene Exception.  I will attempt to address a few here.

  1. Pastor Harrell detests Calvinism, he would never support firing Ergun Caner

This is a fallacious argument. Pastor Harrell’s opinion on Caner or Calvinism here is irrelevant.  The ethic of the Abilene Exclusion stands alone from the reasons Harrell implemented it.

  1. The Cooperative Program and the GBC does a lot of good.  Only a little bit of our funding goes to Brewton-Parker.  If we defund it, a lot of good work won’t get done.

Such an argument relies on a utilitarian ethic which defines morality in terms of the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount people.  This ethic is not consistent with a Christian worldview.

  1. But we’ve always given to the Cooperative Program!

I know what you’re thinking.  You won’t come across any Baptists who resist change.  First, this argument isn’t true if your church existed before 1925 when the cooperative program started.   Second, the Baptists in 1845 had always owned slaves.  This is clearly a bad argument.  Cooperative Program participation is not a biblical mandate.

Obviously, I can’t anticipate and address every objection.  I do want you to know that I am here to help you.  If you’re a Moses is need of an Aaron, I am only an email to sethdunn@bellsouth.net away. I will help you speak to your leaders as my schedule permits if you so desire.  I just want to do right by the Lord and other Christians.  Today, my daily Bible reading presented me with the following from Micah Chapter 6:

“With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?”

The Lord doesn’t need my money or yours.  He requires our righteousness.  Being a Samuel in the midst of a people led by an Eli is tough-sledding…but it’s always the right move.  Today, I heard my favorite preacher preach a sermon on the heroes of the faith.  He stated: “Faith is not popular in a sinful society…because…faith sees sin as its greatest enemy and that alone takes on the mores of society…it often takes more courage to stand up against our friends…it takes a lot more courage to preach against the sins of those that we all have to deal with…social pressure can be more frightening that military power…Why is it people even think the leadership is going to be perfect…it’s not gonna be…We’re imperfect people…We trust God and his word and we stand on it and when we do that we live in the victory God says it ours.”  There’s no college president, no executive director, no pastor, no good-ole-boy crowd, and no trustee who is bigger than God’s word, who is not obligated to do God’s word, or (in my opinion) who is obligated to the management of your tithe by virtue of his position.  I’ll stand with the faithful on this issue.  One can’t fund the wicked work of the charlatan Ergun Caner and be a good steward…but don’t you deny that man grace!  This isn’t about getting him fired or hoping he fails.  We shouldn’t be bitter about Ergun Caner. We must hope that he and those men who installed him repent of their misdeeds.  When the Spirit rules your heart and not the flesh, it feels good to be cut to the quick. I pray God cuts Ergun Caner and the Georgia Baptist Leadership to the quick.  Until then, we can’t fund them.  It’s not right.

A Disclosure

I understand the difference between the ideal and the reality.  I’m a seminary student who studies the word and pays my bills with a secular job.  I can afford my ideals. I’m not in the position of a pastor.  I don’t face the same fiscal pressure.  I don’t face the good-ole-boy network when I make a faithful but unpopular decision.  Let me tell you now, I want to be a pastor.  If I don’t stand up for doing the right thing now when my income doesn’t depend on it, how can stand up when it does? I know I’m asking the pastors reading this to make a hard call that might take the bread off their table…but does man live by bread alone?

 

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I am not asking anyone to do anything I haven’t done.  I addressed the financial and executive leadership at my church on this matter and am trying to work through this matter with them.  I will accept only a biblically sound and morally correct outcome. Here is what I told the charlatan Ergun Caner when confronting him about this matter on 12/9/13:

“Dr. Caner,

I am a Georgia Baptist (non-Calvinist) and apologetics student at NOBTS.

I have heard your brother’s testimony (at FBC Kennesaw), examined the controversy surrounding you, and watched a video of James White speaking about you in Texas.

Regardless of the actual facts of your story, given the controversy that surrounds you, you cannot reasonably be considered as a man who is “above reproach” and fit for Christian leadership.

Since hearing of your appointment to Brewton Parker, I am considering moving my church membership (to a church that does not give to the Georgia Baptist Convention) so that your ministry will not be funded by the money God has entrusted me to tithe.

I think it would be best for the unity of Georgia Baptists if you did not accept the President’s job at Brewton-Parker College. Please step down.

Respectfully and in the name of our Lord, Seth Dunn”

Dr. Caner respectfully responded shortly thereafter:

“Well you do as you feel led by the Holy Spirit , as shall we. If you cannot support us, I’d encourage you give to soul winning in your local church , specifically to those events that produce numbers of invitations given and souls choosing Him in baptism.

What is best for unity would be to resurrect BPC as a soul winning station”

I am going to take Dr. Caner’s advice and do as the Spirit leads.  I do know of a non-GBC supporting Baptist church to support and give my tithe money to.  It’s a good church with a good pastor.  There are still good stewards out there. I pray your church stands up for what is right when they are made aware of this situation.