Part 14 in the Series:
Questioning Church Authority
By Don Enevoldsen
How things have changed. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French writer and diplomat, published the first volume of his impressions of early American life, Democracy in America, a second volume following five years later. Gleaned from two years of traveling to every corner of the United States, his observations give the objective and unique perspective of an outsider intrigued with what made Americans different from Europeans. One passage in particular came to mind as I considered reactions to this series.
“In no country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is, that every one conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the act committed, and in stopping the delinquent… In Europe a criminal is an unhappy being who is struggling for his life against the ministers of justice, whilst the population is merely a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him.”
This very interesting trait of early Americans, this compulsion to speak out with a view to stopping wrongs from being committed, was described by de Tocqueville as the conviction that standing up for truth and protecting the rights, life and property of others was inherent in the American conception of Christian morality and duty. To be a good Christian, you had to speak out and you had to act. De Tocqueville was fascinated by this attitude that seemed so foreign to his European experience.
As I peruse the responses to this series, Questioning Church Authority, I can’t help but notice the evidence that Americans have changed. There is a clear unwillingness to speak unless directly and personally harmed, and often not even then.
In this series, I have specifically named two public figures and criticized their actions. The incident involving Creflo Dollar was a national news story that illustrated the danger and the consequences of never questioning church leaders. Tom Anderson is also a public figure, and an illustration of the consequences of not examining the fruit of a leader’s life. After a close connection with him for two decades, it is natural that I would draw on my own firsthand experience when looking for real life anecdotes to demonstrate the point of my writing. What I have to say about him is not from secondary sources.
Responses to these posts have been overwhelmingly positive, primarily in the form of statements like, “Thank God someone has the courage to tell the truth.” In fact, I’ve gotten more positive feedback on this series than from anything I have ever written in my life, especially from those who have been hurt by abusive church systems and who felt validated by the information.
I recognize that many of these comments come from people who, because of the past abuse, are simply not in a place emotionally to do more than cheer me on. For many, even that is difficult. But my voice should not be that rare. Where are the others who could speak, but haven’t? Please read this as encouragement to stand up and be heard, not as a judgmental criticism. By way of disclosure, I was silent most of my life. Only recently have I tried to live up to my American heritage.
This series has also triggered the most vehement opposition I have ever gotten from my writing. While limited to a relatively small number of people, actually only three or four, their reactions have been strong. The most consistent charge, which I intend to address here and in the next post, is that I have done a horrible thing by identifying the subjects of my examples. It is bad enough that I dare to criticize them at all, but to call them out by name is unthinkable.
I have no doubt many readers are conflicted on this issue. You agree with what was written. You are glad someone wrote it, and you are particularly glad names were given. You also squirm a little at the thought of ever being so specific with your own words. You can’t shake the feeling it is wrong, but you are glad someone did it.
I believe the uneasiness over this stems directly from a lifelong subjection to the teaching that one should never challenge the man of God, never question appointed leaders, never touch the anointing, no matter what. God is the one who should correct them.
To put this mentality into perspective, the trial of Penn State defensive football coach, Jerry Sandusky, illustrates how this type of thinking works in an organization. Sandusky was recently convicted of dozens of counts of child molestation. The Freeh report, released after an independent study of the case, clearly shows that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno (JoePa), as well as other prominent leaders at Penn State, knew of the abuse for ten years and never took action to stop it.
The one person in this horrific story who actually took some action was former Penn State graduate and assistant coach Mike McQueary, who inadvertently witnessed one of the incidents of abuse when he caught Sandusky in the shower with a young boy. McQueary reported it to Paterno and then expected it to be taken care of. It wasn’t, and dozens of other children were molested in the ensuing years. Writer Jim Sollisch, in the Christian Science Monitor, June 25, 2012, identified the reason McQueary never did anything else:
“Mike McQueary is the prototypical Good Soldier. He would have gladly marched off a cliff for Joe Paterno. He is the ultimate Team Player. He’s a model citizen who believes in authority.
“So Mr. McQueary did what he was conditioned to do. He told the ultimate authority: JoePa. You and I might wonder why he didn’t tell the police. In his world, the police were mere mortals compared to Coach. I’m not suggesting McQueary shouldn’t have called the police. I’m just saying that when people wonder why he didn’t alert the authorities, they’re missing the point: He did.
“And the Coach, another lifelong believer in the code of the Good Soldier, let McQueary down. He, too, stayed inside the system. He may have wanted to protect the reputation of Penn State. That’s another attribute of the Good Soldier. They believe in abstractions like team and “Penn State Football.” They often choose abstractions over people.”
Our society has imprinted us over the years with the belief that authority should be universally respected. Instead of considering those who rob, oppress and abuse to be “an enemy of the human race,” as early Americans did, we tend most often to become “merely a spectator in the conflict.” As the Sandusky case suggests, this is true in our society in general, but add to the person in authority the spiritual aura of “man of God,” and people not only don’t question the abstraction of the church, they consider others who do to be ungodly rebels and troublemakers.
“So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.”
How much responsibility does the average person carry to speak out? Not only is it a matter of maintaining our heritage as Americans, it is a primary responsibility of all believers from a biblical perspective. The opening chapter of Isaiah laments the sinfulness of the nation. Then God commands them to:
“Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right.”
When he defines what that means, we do not find the sins we might expect—adultery, idol worship, fornication. Instead, they were commanded to:
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.”
Defending the helpless against the selfishness of the strong, which includes self-serving leaders, is a constant theme throughout the Bible. I find it impossible to reconcile godliness and godly living with silence in the face of deceit and oppression by leaders in the body of Christ. All too often, we are faced with the problem identified by Malachi:
“It is your priests who show contempt for my name.” (Malachi 1:6)
Next, Part 15: Public Criticism of Leaders
Go to the beginning of the series, Questioning Church Authority: Part 1: False Prophets
Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.
18 thoughts on “Enemy of the Human Race”
How to confront those who’ve done wrong yet are held in high esteem by the majority? It’s one of the ultimate uphill battles, and can be a lonely one too which is what the enemy hopes will dissuade us. But, notice how once a high profile figure is exposed that other victims tend to slowly come out of the woodwork? The recent sex abuse scandals in the Los Angeles Unified School District is a good example as is the Sandusky case. All it took to get the ball rolling… was a little push.
So true, Eric. It tells me that the power unleashed when one person speaks up is not just limited to that person’s voice. It is joined by the voices of those who become willing to speak out because they see others doing so, and they know they are not alone against the system. And then it starts to get momentum.
Hello — I have to say you are wonderful. And when it comes to questioning authority — I question everyone and everything. Only God is infallible. Man, in our very existence, is sinful in the way we are always wanting, desiring to be more than what we are, having more than what we have (we are not satified and that is not necessarily a bad thing if our pursuit hurts no one else), especially those in the Church who wish to be like God or “God-like.” Those in power positions, in certain instances as you have mentioned here, abuse those powers. Those in high ranks of any church should always be questioned and not lauded as God-like because then in their arrogance comes the fall and the fall of those who follow them.
You are so right, Patti. The thing is that I have known many leaders in church during my fifty + years as a believer who are well worthy of respect, men and women I have no qualms about following. But I’ve also seen some of the worst abuses and the greatest selfishness. Great leaders, those worthy of respect, don’t mind being questioned. They know that it will help keep them from getting off track. We need more leaders like that. As for the rest, they need to be challenged for the good of the people who make up the church.
Feel free to delete my comment if it is not appropriate for me to reference a four-part series I wrote on my blog about Confronting Abusive Pastors – at http://crossroadjunction.com/2011/05/23/abusive-pastors-1/. As a church leader and now-retired attorney, I was drawn into the fray to help some victims. I too sometimes despair over the reluctance of many Christians to speak up. Perhaps my own series will encourage you that there ARE others willing to speak truth to power, name names, and insure justice.
Jim, I have no qualms sharing this link. I’m appreciative that you have taken a stand. Keep it up.
The JoePa / Sandusky thing is an excellent example of what you’ve been talking about: Abuse my those in power; cover-ups; and unfathomable reactions by the adoring masses.
I’m thrilled beyond words that the NCAA is fining Penn State $60 million and voiding its wins for the last 14 seasons; and still more thrilled that Penn State is following suit and tearing down JoePa’s statue. If JoePa really was complicit in the abuse – and I’m assuming that the results of the investigation are accurate – this is exactly what his legacy deserves: a total tear-down. I feel sorry for his wife, for the school, for the fans, and every other “innocent bystander” who is affected by this; but, on the other hand, they (we) are all complicit, too, by the way that we idolize and deify our charismatic, larger-than-life leaders. JoePa should be a scary cautionary tale for everyone in leadership – in sports, in politics, in business and in religion… Our sins – as leaders and a society – always catch up with us!
What’s disgusting after all of this is the ambiguity with which many are responding to the sanctions: Do we really want to negate all of the good that JoePa did? Aren’t we all guilty of sin, too? Does a tiny little infraction here and there really nullify all of the good that this wonderful man did in his career? Unbelievable… JoePa let children be tortured and tormented by a disgusting monster. They should burn his statue, bury the ashes and pour salt over the ground so that nothing ever grows there again… Too harsh? Not if it was YOUR child that was abused!!!
Fallen leaders leave, in their wake, masses of disillusioned people who once looked to them as examples of the Christian life. Failing to understand that the only perfect example was Jesus, these people may make waves about hypocrisy for awhile, but they slowly drift into the obscure depths of the faithless. If we, who look to Jesus, appear to condone the sins of leadership, do we not contribute to the falling away of these people?
If we don’t dare to speak out, we actively provide the secrecy and silence predators count on for their safety and opportunities to impose their evil appetites on our precious children. We become the problem.
Diane, I can’t improve on that. Very well said. The damage done by silence would stagger us if we could really see it.
I agree Ryan that your assessment is not too harsh. The fact is that the boys who were abused were innocent, too. So the message here is that abuse dramatically affects innocent people. If the school and the innocent students are made to suffer greatly for something they didn’t do, maybe it will get the message across to the general public that child abuse is a very, very, very serious matter. It destroys lives of innocent children. The students and athletes at Penn State have not had their lives destroyed. At worst, they are inconvenienced by the time and effort required to transfer to another school. There’s really no comparison, and if that’s what it takes to make people understand what abuse is like, then I’m all for it. It is a big problem, as Eric Simon noted above. Just look at the magnitude of the scandals recently in LA Unified schools. When that many kids are involved, someone must have known something and just turned a blind eye.
Penn. State is getting everthing they deserve. America has established her priorties. Woe be on to her! The power of the evil one has kept hidden the deeds of those he has protected until now! I believe in these days those that know the Truth will be the iron that create the wall of pureness and holiness that will divide the depraved from the innocent. It is now GOD’S Will for transparency to show the World the Truth that she has made a choice. It’s all about free will.
American Preachers refuse to speak of the second coming of CHRIST because it will affect their tithings, so they would rather talk about ‘GET RICH”. It’s all about money, power and greed. It’s time to make a decision for GOD.
Thanks Don for your fortitude, for leading the charge.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one. There actually are many out there who are seeking truth and doing all that they can to bring light into the darkness. Kind of an army growing up around us. And it is having an impact.
This article was a joy to read and was, for me, a wonderful introduction to your ministry.
I reckon your subsequent comments above are also very sound. For example, I did appreciate your observation that, “Great leaders, those worthy of respect, don’t mind being questioned. They know that it will help keep them from getting off track.” It seems to me that it is ‘Nicolaitan’ for a minister to think he isn’t accountable to the souls he is meant to be serving.
There are multiple grave dangers from staying silent. Not only does silence mean I appear to be giving tacit approval, which will encourage folks who respect me to adopt that same attitude, but it also serves to intimidate people who can see the truth and who want to speak up. And, given the mentions of child molestation on this page, it seems appropriate to note some of the perils of silence when it comes to this profoundly serious subject. Quite apart from allowing the abuser to continue his ghastly and devastating deeds, silence trivializes the suffering of the children (which not only adds to their grief but discourages them from reporting further abuse). Silence also leads to the general populace assuming the problem is less common than it really is. This has the effect of (a) making us complacent rather than alert, (b) making us less likely to believe reports of abuse when they are made, and (c) causing other communities who suffer a case of molestation to feel more isolated, and hence embarrassed, than is fair — thus encouraging them to cover up the abuse, and so it goes on.
Please forgive me if the following plug is cheeky, but I’ve recently published a book which discusses a number of the topics raised on this page, including: the crucial need for congregants to question their ministers, the strong support the Bible gives to naming names; the right tests for a genuine man of God; and the issues of accountability and Nicolaitanism, all in the context of the horrifyingly widespread problem of child sexual abuse within evangelicalism today. The book is called ‘Preying On Our Children’, and more details can be found at http://www.preying.org
God bless you for your stand for the truth, Don.
There are so many areas of harm and destruction that occur when people are silent about abusive practices of church leaders, but for all the reasons you have said, and I think even a few more, silence on child abuse is by far the most serious. Innocent lives are destroyed because of it. Whether your plug is cheeky or not, Dusty, if your comments here reflect the content of the book, it sounds like a worthy contribution to this effort and I look forward to reading it. Thanks for not being silent.
What a gracious and encouraging reply Don. Thank you!
Yep, silence of the JoePa kind certainly brings further problems. Let’s imagine some of JoePa’s other staff got wind of the cover-up. One or more of them could be tempted down the road of molesting as a result, since they will believe that, if they ever get caught, there is an excellent chance their crimes too will be glossed over. What’s even worse is the risk that one of these other employees could have started colluding with Sandusky to enable them both to abuse in safety, since they could have acted as ‘lookouts’ for each other and acted as alibi-providers — or at least have given character references — if either of them fell under suspicion. There’s also the potential for an abusive staff member to use blackmail for his depraved ends.
My comments on this crucial webpage of yours do indeed reflect the content of my new volume. (Please don’t hesitate to delete the following if you feel it excessively cheeky, but I sincerely hope it won’t stretch your patience if I briefly quote one of your correspondents above (Diane) whose review of it said: ‘Wonderful … the book is very well done. Thank you Dusty, for your excellent research’. (That’s the end of the adverts, I promise!))
I have no reservations about promoting good material. You are most welcome, Dusty.
I’m very relieved if I didn’t overstep the mark, and very very impressed by your Christlike reply.
When it comes to being silent about unsound ministers, even more risks of child molestation accrue. I plan to post a list of these risks here later today when I’ve got more mins, DV. Best wishes 😀
Hi again. Here’s the promised material. It’s out of my book, from a section entitled ‘Prevalence [of molestation] Increased Through ‘Nicolaitan’ Culture’. Sorry it’s on the long side, but I guarantee it’s all relevant.
The word ‘Nicolaitan’ is derived from two Greek words: nicos, meaning conquer, and laos meaning people. Thus, Nicolaitans are individuals who try to dominate people. In the Christian context, they seek to subjugate members of a church. [snip]
But in what ways, readers may ask, does Nicolaitanism increase the problem of sexual abuse of children by ministers? Regrettably there are several ways it does so.
Perhaps the most obvious one is that, if children are made fearful by the domineering attitude and—supposedly—special status of the ministers, they are more likely to submit to abuse. They are more likely to keep quiet too. And if an abused child sees that its parents are in awe of the abusive minister, the child is going to be even more discouraged from reporting what has happened. [snip]
Even if a child does tell its parents, the latter may be too programmed into believing the ministers can do no wrong to listen to the report—or too intimidated to do much about it. (Christians must not be fearful of any mortal man: “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25).)
A Nicolaitan culture in a church can also lead many of the congregants, in an effort to rally round the ministers, to act in a thoroughly unpleasant way towards a complainant and his/her family. This emboldens potentially abusive ministers, because they realize that even the least brainwashed and least pliant of the congregants will be highly reticent to challenge them in the future.
How do Nicolaitans keep people cowed? There are many ways, and we’ll see several in chapter 9. Among their arsenal, they use their superior intellect, superior education and superior vocabulary to intimidate, dazzle, and generally ‘wrong foot’ us. But they have three other techniques I want to focus on here.
One of the ways Nicolaitans keep people under control is to suggest the (very unbiblical) idea that anyone who leaves the fellowship, or is ejected from it, will forfeit their salvation. This teaching can convince parents not to take child abuse to court, out of fear of excommunication.
Nicolaitans also tend to warn their congregation never to question their teachings or judgments, on pain of God’s wrath. This too gets in the way of proper handling of abuse cases.
But the third technique is, I feel, the most insidious. Some Nicolaitans will quietly promote the idea that the ministers in the fellowship are some sort of special breed, in a ‘class apart’ from the rest of the brethren. Such a ‘special breed’ attitude can facilitate child abuse by ministers in a number of ways. An “us and them” outlook leads ministers to think that the purpose of congregants is to serve them. This can tempt a minister to take advantage of the church’s children—since they are apparently provided to meet his needs.
When a minister is caught out, this “us and them” attitude also guarantees that the rest of the ministers ‘circle the wagons’ because they cannot face being seen to be so fallible as to have allowed one of their own to abuse children. Such a tendency to circle the wagons dampens the preparedness of congregants to inform the elders about a child’s abuse—let alone inform them of mere suspicions of abuse.
I’ve come across numerous cases where fellow ministers rallied around the abusive minister while doing nothing to help the molested child and its family. Here is just one:
“Baptist minister James Luttrell, … was [arrested for the crime of] raping a six month old baby boy. The evidence was incontrovertible, yet another minister outspokenly defended him and paid for his legal help” Luttrell was found guilty. [For any readers who cannot believe that a human could ever rape a baby, please be aware that it is far from uncommon. Pedophiles have even been known to lust over images of unborn babies, as Harry Keeble has observed. Pedophilia is demonic!]
It gets worse. Nicolaitan ministers can start to believe their own hype that they can do no wrong. When this happens, they are likely to blame the child for the abuse it suffered. This is again no idle remark. In fact such a response occurs regularly. (I accept that such a response occurs for entirely carnal reasons as frequently as out of genuine delusions of grandeur, but such delusions of grandeur irrefutably exist and do lead to children being blamed. )
In extreme cases of Nicolaitanism, elders will imply that they are on a par with God Himself. Not only does this cause people to fear these elders even more; it leads the congregants to ‘outsource’ their spirituality to these elders. Congregants feel that the elders ‘are’ the church, and that people simply need to hang on to the elders’ coat-tails to be saved. This leads to blind trust and blind obedience—neither of which is helpful if abuse occurs. Such trust and obedience also reinforces the lofty status the elders have assigned themselves. (But there is an even more grievous effect. If a person doesn’t have a personal relationship with Christ, but instead goes through any ‘intermediary’, they are not going to receive the spiritual ‘sap’ (strength) that comes from abiding in Christ. Thus they are not going to be nearly as capable of withstanding temptation as would be the case if they had God’s Spirit helping them. The resulting threat to children is obvious.)
Instead of encouraging Christians to think for themselves, Nicolaitans try to brainwash us into uncritically accepting what they say and do. This enables them to ‘get away with murder’. (Where a child is brainwashed to such a point that it accepts the behavior of ministers unquestioningly, what reason would such a child have for flagging any abuse?)
If a Nicolaitan eldership finds out that a minister in their church has molested a child, they’ll go to great lengths to avoid taking any blame for failing to discern that one of the ministers under their wing wasn’t even saved, and for producing a church so unsound as to have engendered him to begin with. The most common way they side-step any blame, especially if they hear of the abuse before the parents do, is to require the offender to move quickly and quietly to another church. This serves these elders in a number of ways. But it does so at the expense of the Body of Christ, for a whole new set of children are endangered thereby. To ensure the molesting minister is welcomed by the new fellowship, the Nicolaitan elders won’t warn them about his real nature. Far from it. Oftentimes they’ll even give him a glowing reference. This naturally tends to increase the trusted access the molester has to Christian children.
Nicolaitan elders often expect congregants to trust them from the ‘get-go’. But trust needs to be earned, and earned the right way (i.e. by exhibiting the same spirit Paul showed, as per chapters like 2 Cor. 11 & 12). At best, Nicolaitans demand our trust on false grounds. They may attempt to win trust by getting equally-Nicolaitan elders to praise them to us. Lying signs and wonders are also used to gain trust. The Bible warns us, “there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders” (Matt. 24:24; see also Mark 13:22 and 2 Thess. 2:9)—so signs and wonders are a staggeringly bad test of a person.
Consider this too. A man may smile continually, and be incredibly charming and have a wonderful sense of humor and be a gifted public speaker. Yet—spiritually speaking—none of this means anything at all. (A lady once told me I was wrong to criticize a certain Nicolaitan minister. She argued that he was above criticism because he was an “impeccable family man”. But since even an unbeliever can be an impeccable family man, this is far from being a guarantee of spiritual trustworthiness.) In John 7:24 the Lord warned us, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment”. Regardless of their qualifications, anyone who subjugates congregants should be opposed.
To be fair, some Nicolaitan ministers are sincere and have ended up down this rabbit-hole thanks largely to false teachings they have been fed by other Nicolaitan ministers. But they still need to be challenged, if only for the sake of our children. If a minister imagines himself to be on a par with God, he is likely to conclude that the normal rules do not apply to him, and even that he can do pretty much what he likes. If congregants start to treat him as godlike, it will place an intolerable pressure on him which could also lead him to sin. And if people give him more trust than he deserves, this too is a cause of temptation.
When ministers have gained the excessive and wrongly-based trust they demand, this assists abuse and allows them to credibly deny any wrongdoing. It even allows them to get away with making the child responsible for the abuse it suffered.
(Please note: Just because an elder preaches high moral standards does not mean he actually believes in those standards and won’t tolerate grievous sexual sin in his own life or in the lives of his fellow elders. I know of Nicolaitan elders who, out of one side of their mouth have taught congregants it is sinful for a betrothed couple to hold hands but, out of the other, have defended ministers for long-term adultery and worse. )
Research into sexually immoral ministers has found that there was no pattern except that “all [of them] no longer had a regular quiet time in fellowship with God, and none had made themselves accountable…”. Far from banning it, ministers should encourage the brethren to watch out for them. The Bible informs us that, “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). And we Christians are commanded to determine the spiritual condition of any folks who claim to have spiritual authority over us (Matt. 7:15-21; 1 John 4:1; see also Rev. 2:2).
“The extent to which a minister-molester is held above suspicion, … is exemplified by a 1987 criminal suit … The arrest of Rev. Jack Law … was heralded by a headline, ‘Girl, 5, Raped Under Pew.’ He was accused not only of that, but of molesting and raping her two sisters. … The girls had tried to tell their parents, but were not believed. ‘Being a preacher,’ the father said of him to local media, ‘we thought he was a good man.’ Law killed himself … rather than face trial.”
If this preacher had truly been a “good man”, he would have urged his hearers to realize he was as prone to temptation as anyone else, and would have asked for their help in keeping him on the straight and narrow by watching out for any signs of problems developing.
Ministers must obviously make themselves accountable to fellow ministers. But this is not an infallible arrangement. Even if all the ministers keep themselves from all Nicolaitan ideas, they still have a tendency to gradually let standards slip when judging other ministers. Why is this? Because they are inclined to compare others to themselves rather than to the Bible. And if they all do this, compromise is bound to enter in whenever they turn a blind eye to unbiblical things in the lives of the others to avoid having to face up to those things in their own lives (see 2 Cor. 10:12). Every minister needs his congregants to ask him “the hard questions about his personal life and thoughts” in case fellow ministers fail to.