Tag Archives: Pastor

Pastors, Porn, and the Myth of the Moral High Ground

19 Mar
Billy Sunday (1861-1935)

Billy Sunday (1861-1935) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since leaving the Christian faith, one of the questions that has yet to be answered for me is this…

“Why is God so bad at making people good?”

I say this without malice or tongue in cheek.  I say it as someone who was drilled with the idea that a relationship with Jesus and knowledge of God’s word led to a Godly and abundant life.  But I found this to not be true.  For all the talk of morality and the need to make a stand as Christians, especially on issues of sexual purity, the Christian church is full of failure and hypocrisy on issues it proclaims as central to Godly living.

According to Ben Witherington, in a post on pastors and porn, over 50% of all pastors admitted to using internet porn.  Many of these same men (and sometimes women) are proclaiming changed lives and moral living, and yet they can not practice what they preach.  They are just as human and just as interested in human sexuality as the guy next door.

Shaming Those Who Admit It

When I managed a Christian bookstore, I saw firsthand the awkward and heavy-handed way that many Churches dealt with those who admitted to viewing porn.  In one instance, a customer of mine was fired as a worship leader when he confessed that he regularly viewed porn.  He confessed to the elders of the church, and in return for his honesty,  was fired and shamed until he left the church in humiliation.  Not to mention, the shame and embarrassment that surrounded his wife and kids once the gossip, I mean prayer chain, kicked into full swing.

In a twist of irony, about a month after he was run out of the church, I discovered that my boss was using the computers at my Christian Bookstore to view internet porn.  It was ironic, because he was one of the elders of the church that fired this guy.  When I confronted him about the porn pop-ups on the computer, he pretended not to know what I was talking about.  When I showed him the viewing history and the porn images that would upload, he still did not confess.

I went home that night and wrote him a letter, telling him that I knew he had been using the computers for porn.  I also told him if that he didn’t come clean, I would go to the elders of his church and report my concerns.  Within seconds of reading my letter, he was fearfully confessing his porn usage and practically begging me to not tell the elders at his church.

I really had no desire to put him through the ringer, considering he already had told his wife and would only face condemnation from his church.  I accepted his apology and let the whole matter pass.

The Moral Low Ground

I won’t belabor my point, but when it comes to sexual purity, as defined by Christian morals, the church in America has absolutely no moral authority.  The amount of hypocrisy concerning sex, porn, etc…is almost laughable.  But it’s not funny, because the church, while holding the average Christian to extremely high moral standards, and condemning those who fail, often times allows its leaders to wallow in the moral low ground in their own lives.

In my own life,my best friend’s wife committed adultery with a worship leader at my old SGM church.  He was soon divorced, but the worship leader convinced his wife to  get marriage counseling outside of SGM so he could maintain his “Godly” image and continue leading worship.

There was another friend who led worship and eventually became pastor in the Vineyard.  He was a regular user of internet porn and seemed to just give up at trying to overcome it.  So much for the Spirit filled life.

I could list a dozen more, but you get the point.

The hypocrisy of so many church leaders telling people to do one thing while being unable to follow their own advice is staggering.  And until the church quits condemning those who do not follow their views on sexuality, this hypocrisy will contine to erode any shred of credibility it may of had in our culture.

The myth of the moral high ground has been shown for what is, a Christian ideal that is not followed by those who supposedly are leading others  to it.

The Stories…Shedding Light on Sovereign Grace’s Abuses

24 Oct
Scales of Justice Brisbane Courts-1=

Scales of Justice Brisbane Courts-1= (Photo credit: Sheba_Also)

I’ve had a huge uptick from folks searching for more information about Sovereign Grace Ministries and the lawsuit filed against current and former pastors (including CJ Mahaney and Larry Tomczak).  The lawsuit alleges that sexual abuse of children was covered up and not properly reported to the police and to the churches.  Many that read here are very familiar with the alleged abuses and the years of stories of heavy handed abuse and deception by SGM leaders.

To an outsider, who might only know of CJ Mahaney and Josh Harris as Christian authors/speakers, it can be intimidating to understand the unique culture and abuses that have occurred over the decades.  I would like to recommend a  link that may help you understand the types of abuses that have occurred and why SGM is now being sued.

Kris, over at SGM Survivors, has a  link called The Stories.  It is a huge compilation of stories from past members of Sovereign Grace and the abuses they endured.  The document is equivalent to a 140 page PDF file and has years of posts from former pastors, small group leaders, worship leaders, average church goers, and children that grew up within the Sovereign Grace family of churches.

This link alone should give anyone a pretty good idea of just how deep and wide the problems of abuse have dogged Sovereign Grace, because of their cultic view of pastoral authority.

As a side note, I wrote 3 posts for SGM Survivors back in 2008.  They are included in this link under Musicman’s story.  Musicman is the handle I’ve used at SGM Survivors since I began posting back in the fall of 2007.

I actually hadn’t read the posts I had written in a couple of years and will post them here at the Christian Agnostic over the next few days.  It may be of interest to some of my readers, since these posts were written a few years before losing my Christian faith.

Regardless, it is the true story of the abuses I saw and endured during my time in SGM.

Until next time….

Stand Over There…And I’ll Throw Rocks Over Your Head

9 Jul

shot_through_the_heart_-_and_youre_to_blame (Photo credit: sillydog)

I was five years old and my friend Nate, who was only four, came over to my house to play.  It was summer time, and we found ourselves bored, with nothing much to do in my front yard.

We were hanging out around a recently planted tree that was surrounded by mulch and a ring of medium to large rocks.

An Idea is Born

As I looked down at the rocks, an idea was  born for our next round of fun.  I picked up a  heavy rock and surmised that if Nate stood about ten feet away, I should still be able to throw the rock over his head.

“Hey Nate!” I yelled over.

“Yes” Nate shouted back.

“Go stand over there, ” I pointed to about 10 feet away.  He dutifully moved to right where I pointed.

“I’m going to throw this rock over your head!” I shouted across the yard.

“Ok” said Nate, without any hesitation or doubt in his voice.

As Nate stood his ground, I picked up a large rock and heaved it with all my might.  I distinctly remember that I was 100% sure that the rock would simply sail far over his head, and that my superior rock throwing ability was about to be confirmed.

As the rock flew through the air I stood in awe…but then something happened.  The rock begun to descend sooner than planned and  it hit Nate square upon his mouth.

Shock, just utter shock descended upon my five-year old mind.

Shock, just utter shock is what I saw on Nate’s face, as he stared back at me.  It seemed like time stood still as we stared at each other, both shocked at what had just transpired.

Then…blood begun gushing down Nate’s face from his lip. It had been gashed open by my misfired rock and he was now bleeding all over his shirt and white shorts.  As the pain of his injury overtook him, he screamed and cried as he ran into my house to seek assistance from his mother.

The next few minutes are a blur, as I was vacillating between the shock of learning that my rock throwing abilities were not up to snuff and the thought that my injured friend my was probably going to get me in trouble.

My Mom stormed out of the house with a mild scolding, along with the unanswerable question of  “What were you thinking when you threw that rock?” coupled with “Were you trying to hit Nate with that rock?”.

The truth is, I had no intention of hitting him and I was having a hard time explaining what I was thinking, because I was still in shock over my poor estimation of my arm strength.

Unfortunately for Nate, our rock throwing adventure ended our play date prematurely, as he got a trip to the Doctor for seven stitches and I got a trip to my bedroom for a grounding.

It wouldn’t be the last time in my childhood that I had a hair-brained idea involving rocks…but that’s for another day.

And the Point of all of this?

Besides being a perfect example of why children should be taught to think about their actions before running headlong into adventure, it’s also an example of what happens when we believe ourselves to be infallible.

You see, the same mindset of my five-year old mind, is very similar to the many ministry leaders and pastors I have known in my life.  They are similar in that often times, they overestimate their abilities and in doing so put others at risk.

An infallible mindset never considers the question of  “what happens if I am wrong?”.  And this is dangerous.

Some Examples

“You have marriage trouble, no problem, set up an appointment I’ll explain to you the Biblical way to save your marriage.  Never mind that I’m only 28 years old and have only been married for 15 months.  Not to worry,  I’m a pastor and I graduated with a degree in Biblical counseling.”

“What do you mean your husband is ignoring you?  It may mean that you’re not submitting enough.  He hit you?  Well he wouldn’t have just hit you unless he was very frustrated with you and your behavior.  Here’s a book on submission.  We’ll read it together and I’ll meet with you weekly so that you can begin to have a Biblical marriage again.”

“You’re having financial troubles?  Can I ask you a question?  Do you tithe?  Have you considered that maybe you’re having financial troubles because you’re not tithing to God’s House?”

“What do you mean you’re having suicidal thoughts?  That’s demonic…think of your children and family and the sort of testimony that would be.  You need to commit to reading your Bible and praying every day.  Then the Joy of the Lord will be your strength.  You don’t need counseling, you need the Holy Spirit.”

I could go on with more examples, but I think it suffices to say, that many a Christian leader has overestimated their ability to help counsel people who are in serious trouble.  Often times with disastrous results.

Pastoral Disaster

I witnessed this first hand, as a pastor (who was also my neighbor) counseled a couple who’s twin babies were facing almost certain death.  As their health deteriorated in the hospital, my pastor friend encouraged the couple and their church to pray harder for healing.  One church member had even prophesied that the twins would live (which would have been a medical miracle) and the church encouraged the couple to blog, so that God’s goodness could be shared with the world (since they were 100% sure the babies would be healed).

Rock to the face…the babies died, the church was in shock, and the pastor was unprepared to deal with the crushing disappointment that his counsel had caused.  The couple left the church and was understandably angry.  Other members left the church.  Some of the elders remained but told me that they didn’t think that God answered prayers.  The whole church was bleeding like Nate’s gashed lip.  All because they had adopted an infallible mindset at the behest of the pastor in my neighborhood.

A couple of times during this episode, I had actually tried to convince this pastor to consider, if what he was doing was wise.  I even asked him, what he would do if he was wrong.  He didn’t seem to know, but he also seemed pretty sure that he wasn’t going to have to worry about being wrong.

After the deaths and funeral,what surprised me most, was how this pastor was more in shock that his counsel had not worked, than he was in grief over the loss of these dear children.  He was just like me at 5 years old, completely confounded that he wasn’t as good at this as he had thought.

So the next time someone tells you to “just do this” or “just pray that” to solve your problems.  Remember, people aren’t always as good as they think they are…

Just stand over there and I’ll throw a rock over your head, if you don’t believe me.

Pastor Sues Former Member for Negative Google Review

15 May

Thanks to the folks at The Wartburg Watch for making me aware of this story.  You can find their discussion of this story here.

I was especially interested, because this church is not too far away from where I live.

You  can view the KATU news report here:

KATU-Beaverton Grace Bible Church Sues Former Member

Story of Child Abuse from the Mothership of SGM-featured at Exchristian.net

3 May

exCLCer has posted her story of abuse at the hands of two pastors from CLC.   For those not familiar with Sovereign Grace Ministries, CLC (Covenant Life Church) was the founding church of the cult.  One of the founding pastors is CJ Mahaney, author and speaker in many of the new Reformed conferences.  CLC’s current  pastor is Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

I attended SGM churches for almost a decade, including a brief period at CLC in Gaithersburg, MD.

I’ll let her story speak for itself:


Christian Bookstores-part 1

25 Apr

I worked in the Christian bookstore industry from 1988 until late 2010.  22 years of my life spent selling, promoting, and consuming the latest in Christian books, music, and movies.  If there’s one thing I know to be true, Christian bookstores are an incredibly unique part of the Christian experience.  You have everything from $250 leather bound Bibles, talking vegetable videos, and plastic wind up trucks with a decal that says “Jesus Loves You”.

But the most interesting part of the Christian Bookstore Industry are the people. The people that work at these stores and the customers who haunt their aisles are some the most colorful characters I’ve ever encountered.  So sit back, relax, and I’ll introduce you to some them.

The Customers

Most of your Christian Bookstore customers, are just your average church goers who stopped in to grab a greeting card or the newest book for their Bible study on Wednesday morning.  Very nice folks that strike you as the average family man/woman.

Then there’s prophecy man.

Every Christian Bookstore has one.  Prophecy man buys lots of books, well, on prophecy.  And not just any old prophecy…END TIMES PROPHECY (cue Vincent Price’s evil laugh).  Yes, the End Times and it’s nearing fulfillment is all this guy (and yes-it’s always a guy) can think and speak of, nothing else can hold his attention.  Often times, Prophecy man will greet you with a question.  Not the “How are you doing?” type of question, no…it’s usually a question like “Did you see what they are doing in China and this whole trade deal?” or “Did you know that the master decoder number for all Social Security Numbers is 666?”…and if warfare is breaking out, you can be sure he’ll detail every last word of Ezekiel 38 to prove to you that this event was foretold and that Jesus would be returning any day.

Yep, prophecy man will spend a lot of time and money in your store.  Which is a mixed blessing for your store.  Nice that he’s a regular customer that will spend most of his money on the books you sell on the topic.  But a mixed blessing, because he will often linger and corner an unsuspecting customer or employee into a drawn out discussion on prophecy.  This poor person is usually too polite to interrupt and will endure Prophecy Man’s latest take on the co-conspirators of the Anti Christ, who is about to emerge.  And the list of co-conspirators is always impressive.  The President, The CIA, Trilateral Commission, and the favorite of all-the United Nations.  According to prophecy man, they are all working for the Beast and are about to unleash the End Times on us all.  The most redeeming quality of Prophecy Man is that he’s willing to pay top dollar for any book on the subject.  Which is unlike one of my other favorite Christian Bookstore standouts….the Missionary customer.

Missionary Customer, unlike Prophecy Man is NOT willing to pay top dollar for anything.  In fact, they barely hide their disdain for moneymaking enterprises and are quick to tell you so.  After insulting you and your means of livelihood, they will spend an hour in your store picking out books, music, and toys they can not purchase on the mission field.  Once they’ve finished, they will march up to the counter, remind you again that they are a missionary.  And proceed to demand for a discount for their newly chosen worldly goods.

The irony in all this, is that Christian bookstores are not highly profitable and that most of your employees at an average store make about half of what an average missionary makes.  But that detail is lost on Missionary Customer.  Probably because they’ve been on the mission field, supported by other working peoples money.  To them money is something that other people have, and we should give it to them.  At least that’s the impression I always got from these arrogant representatives of the Gospel.  Unfortunately for me, the store I worked at did NOT give these very special people discounts.  At this point, Missionary Customer gets pissed and throws the equivalent of a preschool temper tantrum.  Speaking loudly so that everyone can in the store can hear how they are “shocked” or “dismayed” that a “Christian bookstore does not offer a discount to those on the front lines of ministry”.  Whatever…no wonder most missions are not very successful.  It seems most churches have paid good money to send people out as missionaries, so that they only have to deal with this person once every two years.

Last but not least, are your Pastors.  Pastors hate Christian bookstores.  They hate them for a variety of reasons.  Some hate them because it competes with their congregations attention to their golden tongued sermons.  Others hate them because they have other authors and church perspectives that they believe to be false.  And most Pastors hate them because they compete with their church’s book table or in some cases, their own bookstore on the church campus.  But make no mistake, most Pastors hate your store.  As one of my other managers would say after dealing with a pastor (usually her own)  “There goes another arrogant Man of God!”.  She would then turn away and go for the back room so should could decompress with having to deal with one of God’s prim a donas.

The only reason Pastors come to your store, is because you were their last resort.  Which is fine, because the amount of work and insults you endure from Pastor Customer is almost to the point of telling them to shove it-which of course, would mean an extra helping of Pastoral disdain and a pink slip from the owner.  The best you can do with Pastor customer, is smile, and keep telling yourself how glad you are that you will never, ever go to their church.

Anyway, I see that I have much more to say about Christian Bookstores than one post can hold.  I’ll be sure to re-visit the topic and introduce you to the owners and employees of your local Christian Bookstore on our next field trip!

Tithing and The Last Easter Service I’ll ever attend….

11 Apr

I was in the middle of my brief tenure as a Vineyard worship leader, at the last church I would ever attend as a member.  We were a few weeks into the new year and my pastor called me to discuss the church.  We agreed to meet at Starbucks to go over the upcoming schedule and events.

Later that day, we met up for an overpriced cup of joe and some conversation.  After talking kids and politics, we finally begin talking about the new year for our church.  I had some minor suggestions for developing the worship team, but beyond that, I was interested in hearing what my pastor had in mind.

He began talking about the current crunch financially that the church was facing.  It was before the housing bust and stock crash, but the pinch was beginning to hit a lot of families and giving was down, the church was in the red most months and was beginning to dip into savings just to cover it’s weekly expenses for pastors and facility costs.  I asked how the church had gotten so far behind in the budget.  He told me that they recently had moved locations (a move instigated by my pastor) and that it increased their expenses  by 20%.  I gulped when he told me that number.

“You committed the church to a twenty percent increase in expenses?” I asked.

“We did…I figured our new location would bring in more families and giving would go up to cover the costs” he said.

“If my boss told me I needed to increase my sales 20% with only the same customers, I would have told him he was crazy.” I replied. “Unless God specifically told you to do this, how could you have done this without letting the congregation know?  It just lacks wisdom..” I continued.

It was at this point that he pulled out the silver bullet from his bag of pastoral tricks and told me “Well, I think we just need to teach people to give…I’m planning on a 6 week series on giving and tithing.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Old Testament tithe was an offering of 10% of all sorts of grains and foods that were given to the Levitical priesthood to provide for offerings, feast days, and for consumption by the priests and sometimes the poor.  But the one thing tithes were not, was money.  But this hasn’t stopped many a Christian pastor from insisting that his congregation tithe (give 10%) of all their money to the church.  Even using ominous verses from Malachi, which warns that those who do not tithe are robbing God.

And now my pastor was suggesting he needed to hit our little congregation over the head about tithing, because HE had decided to obligate the church for 20% more money than was typically given to the church.  I wasn’t buying it.

He asked what I thought about the idea for his upcoming sermon series…I flat out told him that I HATED the idea.  First off, because tithing is not even taught as a requirement for Christians and that secondly, it seemed to me that he was using tithing to guilt trip people into giving more money for a decision in which they had no say.

I literally thought he was going to jump out of his skin.  He looked both angry and panicked that I was not going to have his back on this.  He began to desperately try and convince me that Jesus mentioning the tithe in Matthew was justification for teaching it to the church.  I countered that Jesus mentions it in passing to those still under the law and that he used it as a negative example.  Hardly the wringing endorsement that justifies using it to cover up his own financial follies.

I don’t remember all the specifics of our conversation after this point, but I do remember that it was tense and that my pastor decided he was still going to teach on giving, but maybe do a little research on tithing.  But there was one more thing he wanted to discuss….two services.

Even though we didn’t fill out the church with one service, he figured more people would come if we had two services.  Again, it seems that the decision to go to 2 services was based on the hope of growing the church quick, to help cover the bills.  It seemed that very little thought was given to the fact that the worship team and many other volunteers would now be doing double time on Sunday morning.  I didn’t like the idea, but I held my tongue.  I had frustrated him enough already and two services was not a given at this point…

I am sad to report, that he did go ahead and beat the sheep with his tithing and giving series.  He also laid out the church financial crisis without ever taking any responsibility for the decision, and he did finally get his wish of two services.

He decided to begin two services on Easter Sunday.  So, he fished his wish.  But he also lost a worship leader that Sunday….it also happened to be my last Sunday as an active church member.  It will probably be the Last Easter Service I’ll ever attend….

Since I Gave Up Hope ( I Feel a Lot Better)

3 Apr

Recently I spoke with an old friend.  He is a pastor and I am now an ex-christian.  It was the first time we had spoken since I had made it clear on Facebook, that I doubted the Scriptures and no longer considered myself a Christian.

To be honest, I felt bad telling him that I had lost my faith.  It seemed like I would be letting him down.  After all, we had done some ministry stuff together.  We had even helped sponsor some Christian concerts back in the day and I had been a guest on his college radio show that featured Christian rock.  Telling him I no longer believed felt like I was betraying him.

But as we spoke, he genuinely listened and did not try and argue with me… in fact, he agreed with many of my textual criticisms.  He also said it didn’t surprise him that I had lost my faith.  This surprised me and I asked him why he said this about me.  He replied, that given the abusive church situations I had witnessed, and my intimate dealings with the Christian Book and Music industry and the underbelly of much of it’s purveyors, he was surprised I hadn’t lost my faith years before this point.

I understood what he was saying, but I could honestly state that these things had not been the reason I had given up on faith.  I told him that my lack of faith in the scriptures as the word of God, is what drove me away from faith.  He listened and as we neared the end of our conversation, he did say that while he understood where I was at, he did not feel I was in a better place.  Meaning that my loss of faith in God was a bad thing, and something that concerned him.  He wished me well and we ended our conversation.

Some time has passed, and I have to report that since giving up hope in God or the Bible, I feel a lot better (thank you to Steve Taylor for this clever little phrase)…  I know it sounds cheeky, but it really is true.  I feel a lot better about life.  I no longer have this wondering doubt if I am doing the right thing for God, a God that is silent and whose scriptures are flawed.  Trying to figure out God’s will  felt like trying to do a Rubiks Cube with both hands tied and my eyes glued shut.  I no longer play this game.

I am also resolved that I will cease to exist after I die.  Much in the way that I was unable to feel or experience life before I was born…I will eventually fall back to the earth and cease to experience life around me.  I will remember no more, and eventually I will be remembered no more.  It’s not a romantic picture, but I believe it is true, given the evidence all around me.  And it motivates me to enjoy life, enjoy those who are dear to me, and appreciate the gift that every new day gives, while I still have the health and resources to enjoy it.

While I am still concerned for the poor, the downtrodden, the weak….I no longer waste time praying.  If I can act or help, I do.  If I am unable, I do not.  I no longer feel the pressure to be some sort of ambassador for a country I’ve never been to, and can no longer even believe exists.  It was always a heavy burden to believe another persons eternal choices were affected by me.  Again, I model kindness and love when given the chance, but I do not feel obliged to be a doormat for those who are willing to exploit our better nature.

Just my two cents from someone on the other side of faith….

Don’t Feel Like Going to Church, Don’t Worry…Neither Does Your Pastor

18 Mar

A few years ago, I’m talking politics, ministry, and theology with the Senior Pastor of my church.  We lived right near each other and I was on staff as the worship leader, so we spent a lot of time together discussing church, books we like, etc…

On this particular day, I had an insight into my pastor’s soul.  You see, he had a conundrum.  His politics had changed from Conservative to Liberal, pro-life to pro-choice, and his theology had gone from a simple  Evangelical faith to a more nuanced approach to the scriptures.  As we talked, he referred to the Old Testament as myth (something I did not believe at the time), he had adopted a post-modern view of Hell (allegory at best in his view), and he referred to his mostly conservative, Bible believing church members as unable to handle his position on these matters.  He was scared to tell the truth to the very people who turned to him weekly to preach the truth. You see, he was dependent on these folks for his living and he was scared of the consequences of telling the truth, so he didn’t.

Sure, sometimes he would hint at this, or refer to that, giving an indicator that there was more beneath the surface.  But I could tell by the tone of his voice, that he feared for his living.

I felt sorry for him in that moment, because I realized that he was held hostage to a job, and to a certain appearance of theological correctness, in order to keep his congregation at bay from his true thoughts.  I also felt sorry for him, because he also sounded condescending or even loathsome towards our little church. Every day he had to put on his good little Evangelical game face, and try to make his way through a day without outing himself.  I could tell, that this is why he seemed tired and cranky around the neighborhood.  If you’ve ever had to act in a play, then you know how hard it can be to keep the script on track, and how hard it is to recover from a slip of the tongue.  All the world was a stage for him, in a play that he wished he had never tried out for.  The script was exacting it’s price and drinking whiskey was his new way to fall asleep.  This is not a healthy way for anyone to live, let alone someone claiming to be called to live and teach the scriptures.  I did not envy him…I pitied him.

I tried to encourage him to be honest, but he resisted.  Not long after this conversation, I resigned from the Worship team and soon left the church.  It was the right thing to do….

Not  long after, I ran across a survey ( I think from Barna) that found that almost 50% of all clergy /pastors surveyed, said they would leave ministry tomorrow if they had another job lined up.  Did you get that…it’s a 50/50 chance that your pastor does not even want to be in ministry anymore!  Another survey I ran across said that over 70% of  Christians no longer attending any church, had been in full-time ministry or been a full-time volunteer.  Again, that’s a huge number of people who have been running the “guts” of the local church, who eventually leave to never return.

What is it about being a leader or pastor in a church, that makes most folks want to leave and never come back?

For me, I just don’t trust the Bible anymore.  So I just don’t go to church anymore, why would I?  But for someone whose job is to go to church-now that’s not a situation I would wish on anyone.