McLean Bible is the mega church in the Washington, D.C. area spearheaded by Lon Solomon. In the past few years McLean Bible joined The Gospel Coalition and this post is designed to ask if that is wise? Given the behavior of The Gospel Coalition against the Sovereign Grace lawsuit and in promoting Doug Wilson from Christ Church in Idaho serious questions need be asked.
“I find that when you open the door toward openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through.”
“Reports on the lawsuit from Christianity Today and World Magazine (among others) explicitly and repeatedly drew attention to C. J., connecting the suit to recent changes within SGM. He has also been the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some. One of the so-called discernment blogs—often trafficking more in speculation and gossip than edifying discernment—reprinted a comment from a woman who issued this ominous wish, “I hope [this lawsuit] ruins the entire organization [of SGM] and every single perpetrator and co-conspirator financially, mentally and physically.”
Kevin DeYoung, D.A. Carson’s and Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition attack a rape victim in Sovereign Grace
“You’re not going to scare me away from the word Confederate like you just said ‘Boo!’ ” Wilson says. “I would define a neo-Confederate as someone who thinks we are still fighting that war. Instead, I would say we’re fighting in a long war, and that [the Civil War] was one battle that we lost.”
Doug Wilson on the Civil War
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:17 NIV
There is a discernment quiz here for you to look at and analyze. It is from the membership page of a local Evangelical Free Church in the D.C. area called Ambassador Bible Church. How would you analyze their membership requirements? By practicing your discernment, would you get involved in Ambassador? After giving people an opportunity to review then I will write a post and discuss Ambassador Bible Church’s membership requirements.
Today’s post will be a difficult to read if you are the victim of a sex crime in your life. In this post I am going to talk about Doug Wilson, and a horrific situation with Steven Sitler a pedophile at Christ Church in Idaho, and The Gospel Coalition who has promoted Doug Wilson
McLean Bible Church started in 1961 with 5 families in Northern Virginia. It’s first service was held on Easter Sunday at Chesterbook Elementary School in McLean with Pastor J. Albert Ford. McLean Bible grew and Lon Solomon arrived on the scene in 1980. Lon Solomon was a former Jew who described himself as a former pothead, with an afro who explored Eastern religions. He had an encounter with a man named Bob Eckhart who brought him to the Lord. In a Washington Post story Lon described his spiritual conversion. “I finally got to Matthew, Chapter 11, where Jesus said, ‘Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden, and who are burdened down, who are overwhelmed, and I will give you rest,’ ” he said. “And when I read that, I’ll never forget looking up and saying, ‘Bingo! Bingo! That is exactly what I’m looking for.’ “ With that Lon Solomon converted to Christianity much to anger of his Jewish family. From 1980 onward McLean Bible grew and moved to Leesburg Pike in the former National Wildlife Federation’s headquarters. I was involved in McLean Bible and did a mission through Frontline back in 2007. If you want to know more about McLean Bible you can read more about it here. One of the issues that has been established in the past is that McLean Bible has not transparent about pastor’s salaries and keeps that information from the congregation. I would like to write about pastor’s salaries more so in the future, especially with many salaries to include military, government, and education being public knowledge and open. Churches need to be more transparent in their finances, it would help the Gospel considerably if churches become more transparent about finances. I recently attended an event at McLean Bible to listen to Ravi Zacharias speak about suffering. However, I also was dismayed after the fact to read that Ravi inflated his academic credentials which you can read about in these posts here and here.
I want to give some background information before I dived into this post in greater detail and raise some questions. I had my faith crisis in 2009 and withdrew from about 95% of the Christian community in my life, and that included the community I knew at McLean Bible. One of the things that drove me in agnosticism/atheism was corruption and issues in evangelicalism. I had learned the hard way that evangelical Christianity is a very sick and diseased movement. Evangelicalism has a lot of potential but its often mired in scandal and corruption. Time and again I have had to deal with the issues of child sex abuse first in Wisconsin when I lived there, and was then unsuccessfully recruited to a Sovereign Grace church amidst the largest lawsuit in evangelical Christian history. I was baptized at Fairfax Community Church only to discover that FCC had placed a violent sex offender in a position of trust and then concealed that information from the congregation. But as I learned FCC suffered from a number of issues which are written up in this summary here. Recently I learned that McLean Bible is a member of The Gospel Coalition and that alone begs some questioning. Before writing this post I searched McLean Bible’s website and I don’t see its affiliation with The Gospel Coalition being mentioned. It is mentioned on The Gospel Coalition website. If I made a mistake and its clearly communicated then I will appreciate correction. McLean Bible used to have a statement on their neutrality in regards to Calvinism but that apparently has been taken down. McLean Bible needs to be transparent on The Gospel Coalition as many people are being hurt in churches today. Members who join a church at one stage of life find that their church has been theologically hijacked and can face questionable discipline for a whole host of issues especially with the way that some Neo-Calvinist churches Lord over authority. My background is in the Evangelical Free Church denomination and a number of Evangelical Free have been theologically hijacked and it’s forced people from churches. Is it a coincidence that this is occurring with the rise of the dones? I will expand upon all this in the end of this post. So with that explained let’s look at the history of The Gospel Coalition in regards to the Sovereign Grace child sex abuse lawsuit and its promotion of Doug Wilson from Christ’s Church Idaho.
The Gospel Coalition and the Sovereign Grace Ministries Lawsuit
A number of stories detailing child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries were quite riveting on a blog called SGM Survivors. SGM Survivors documented spiritual abuse, child sex abuse and the behavior of an organization that many likened to a cult. A lawsuit commenced against SGM on October 17, 2012 by several former members alleging the cover up of child sexual abuse, forcing young toddlers to forgive their molester, and giving free legal advice to the sexual abusers themselves and helping them flee from the law. This lawsuit would grow and expand again on January 14, 2013, with deeply disturbing revelations about additional child sex abuse and domestic abuse. Included in these revelations was a claim that an adult woman was physically spanked by a then SGM pastor. This lawsuit was spearheaded by Susan Burke, an attorney who cut her teeth on military rape cases. This lawsuit would also grow to be the biggest evangelical sex scandal to date. Even with the lawsuit against the ministry Bill Gothard established, Basic Life Principles, I don’t think anything has surpassed it.
In response to the sexual abuse scandal churches began departing SGM. Ground zero for the lawsuit was Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Fairfax. As the lawsuit developed SGM’s response was to claim the First Amendment as its defense in claiming pastoral assistance to those emotionally injured by SGM. (On a quick side note could you imagine Jesus pulling out a First Amendment Defense?) On May 17, 2013 most of the lawsuit against SGM was thrown out on a technicality. The problem was the statue to limitations had expired. It didn’t mean the sexual abuse claims never happened, it meant that the legal avenue had run its course. In SGM culture members were discouraged from reporting child sex abuse to the local law authorities, so many of the law authorities were unaware of the abuse having occurred. Then in an act of brazen corruption which made one wonder why the Protestant Reformation even occurred on May 24, both T4G and The Gospel Coalition “The Neo Calvinists Rome” released a statement in support of CJ Mahaney. In this post I will just focus on The Gospel Coalition’s statement as I am writing about McLean Bible.
In a statement by D.A. Carson, Justin Taylor, and Kevin DeYoung that was called “Why We Have Been Silent About the SGM Lawsuit” the TGC stated the following, and in the process verbally attacked and went after a SGM rape victim in the process:
Reports on the lawsuit from Christianity Today and World Magazine (among others) explicitly and repeatedly drew attention to C. J., connecting the suit to recent changes within SGM. He has also been the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some. One of the so-called discernment blogs—often trafficking more in speculation and gossip than edifying discernment—reprinted a comment from a woman who issued this ominous wish, “I hope [this lawsuit] ruins the entire organization [of SGM] and every single perpetrator and co-conspirator financially, mentally and physically.”
We are not ashamed to call C. J. a friend. Our relationship with C. J. is like that with any good friend—full of laughter and sober reflection, encouragement and mutual correction. He has regularly invited—even pursued—correction, and we have given him our perspective when it is warranted. While the admission of friendship may render this entire statement tainted in the eyes of some, we hope most Christians will understand that while friends should never cover for each others’ sins, neither do friends quickly accept the accusations of others when they run counter to everything they have come to see and know about their friend. We are grateful for C. J.’s friendship and his fruitful ministry of the gospel over many decades.
***This next segment will be difficult to read if you have been the victim of a sex crime, I am just trying to warn you if you don’t want to read some difficult material***
The Gospel Coalition and Doug Wilson of Christ’s Church in Idaho
Doug Wilson is a controversial Reformed theologian and pastor in Moscow, Idaho, who subscribes to dominionism of Christians controlling their culture. He fits the mold of “aggressive Neo-Calvinism” even though me might not describe himself as such. In addition he has a number of controversial and deeply disturbing views that should make many Christians concerned.
- Doug Wilson is a conspiracy theorist on HIV and AIDS. You can read about that in this post here.
- Doug Wilson describes himself as a “Paleo-Confederate.” He believes and wrote a book that stated that the way the American South practiced slavery was Biblical. He also stated that blacks benefited from slavery. Those troubling views on slavery can be read in detail here.
- His views on sex are just as disturbing as Mark Driscoll’s. In describing sex Doug Wilson says that “a man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” You can read more about that in this post here.
- Wilson’s views on “classical schooling” are quite disturbing and should give pause to educators. Again to read more go here.
- When patriarchal leader Doug Philips sexually assaulted an underage female, Doug Wilson blamed the victim for the sexual assault. That can be read in detail here.
As deeply disturbing as all that is the most troubling aspect of Doug Wilson came when his church arranged a marriage of an unsuspecting female to a pedophile after the second date. Doug Wilson oversaw that marriage. And that is what I am going to focus on in this section. As disturbing as this topic is, this needs to be discussed and explained in detail especially after The Gospel Coalition promoted Doug Wilson for years.
In 2003 Steven Sitler moved to Moscow, Idaho, and enrolled in Doug Wilson’s New Saint Andrews College. He also got involved in Doug Wilson’s Christ Church. Sitler is a pedophile and he came to New Saint Andrews having sexually abused a number of children in his wake. He had preyed upon boys and girls from the ages of 2 to 12 for his own sexual pleasure. In 2005 one of the parents notified Doug Wilson that Sitler had sexually assaulted their child. Wilson told the parent to retain an attorney from Christ Church. This is the beginning of Sitler’s legal problems. Wilson who had no capability to provide professional counseling for a serial sex offender counseled Sitler six times. Sitler was tried, prosecuted, and convicted by the State of Idaho for child sex abuse. The judge who presided over that trial was John Stegner. While Sitler faced life in prison during sentencing, Doug Wilson wrote a letter which can be read here that asks for leniency. Doug Wilson’ s letter to the judge opens up by saying;
I am grateful Steven was caught, and am grateful he has been brought to account for these actions so early in his life. . . . At the same time, I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have good hope that Steve has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.
Because of Wilson’s intervention, Sitler only served a year in prison and was assigned probation for life, and was permanently placed on Idaho’s sex offender registry. But it was also believed and encouraged by Doug Wilson that marriage would take care of Steven Sitler’s pedophilia. Katie Travis who was a student at New Saint Andrew’s College (NSAC) expressed her desire to be married. She was arranged by NSAC to meet Steven Sitler. They had two dates and on the second date Sitler expressed his desire to marry Katie. Because of Steven Sitler’s conviction and him being a registered sex offender, the marriage had to be approved by the State of Idaho. The State of Idaho was concerned about the marriage going forward because of how future children could be placed at risk, and the lack of a stable family environment. Judge Stegner ruled that the marriage could take place. Afterward, on June 11, 2011, Doug Wilson married Katie Travis and Steven Sitler. You can watch Doug Wilson officiating the marriage here.
Katie and Steven had a child and strict regulations by the court system were in place. Steven could not be alone with his own child due to the high risk he posed to children. The only approved chaperones are Dave and Roxanne Sitler and Katie Sitler, Steven’s wife. While following up with the Department of Correction’s and having to undergo a series of polygraphs as part of his probation requirements, Steven Sitler admitted that he was sexually stimulated when he held his infant child. Latah County Procector said the following about the revelations of Steven Sitler. “In some extent the state’s worst fears appeared to be realized by some of the recent disclosures in the polygraphs,” Thompson said. “The actions that he has engaged in and disclosed are a compelling basis that he cannot have anything close to a normal parental relationship at this time with his child,” Thompson said. “Everybody would love for Mr. Sitler to become a normal person, but the fact is he is not. He is a serial child sexual abuser. The best way to protect is to prohibit contact except in direct line of vision with a responsible, approved chaperone. At this point in time, that means he would not be able to reside with his wife and child.” The Moscow-Pullman Daily News wrote an op-ed on the fact that Steven Sitler posed a threat to his own child. The State of Idaho intervened in the situation and prevented access to his son, for the safety of his child. Idaho’s Child Protection Services opened up an investigation into the situation.
So why am I writing about all this and why is this relevant to McLean Bible? The Gospel Coalition which McLean Bible has joined has promoted Doug Wilson despite his disturbing views and his behavior. While all of this has been unfolding in Idaho the last several years, The Gospel Coalition ran and featured Doug Wilson articles 52 times. Although it looks like The Gospel Coalition has taken down a number of articles from Doug Wilson, many of his articles stayed up during the controversy and problems Doug Wilson was generating. I’ve found no retraction notice or explanations for their disappearance. Also some articles remain (I found three) though many references to him still exist in articles and interviews. I think some evangelicals like Doug Wilson because he debated Christopher Hitchens. That said, I don’t get it, I think William Lane Craig is much more scholarly and did far a better job in debating Christopher Hitchens. This comes from a guy who drank the Christopher Hitchens Kool-aid for years.
Why Would any Victim of a Sex Crime Want to Attend McLean Bible or any Church Affiliated with The Gospel Coalition?
The Gospel Coalition is a tainted, and corrupt organization. I’ve likened it to a spiritual version of Tammany Hall. For those who do not know, Tammany Hall was known for its exorbitant corruption. It was the political machine ruled by Boss Tweed that influenced New York city politics. However, the one difference between Tammany Hall and the Gospel Coalition is that Tammany Hall was at least open and honest about their corruption. They had more integrity in their corruption because they were forthcoming about it. So when The Gospel Coalition promotes a man who is a conspiracy theorist on HIV, or who believed that blacks benefited from slavery, what does that do for churches affiliated with the Gospel Coalition? What does it say about The Gospel Coalition when it promotes someone like Doug Wilson who believed that marriage would help cure a serial pedophile, or by having Justin Taylor, D.A. Carson, or Kevin DeYoung attack a Sovereign Grace rape victim to defend their pal CJ Mahaney? Is CJ Mahaney that sacred? As a part of Neo-Calvinism has God foreordained in his sovereignty child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries or Churches as part of “The Gospel”?
I never thought I’d say this, and it churns my stomach to state but I’d prefer to have Mark Driscoll preaching again than Doug Wilson teaching. Before I continue there is another thought I have to say – D.A. Carson’s participation in that bastardized statement on the SGM lawsuit is not just the lowest point of The Gospel Coalition but also modern evangelicalism as well. When it came out that Mark Driscoll plagiarized from D.A. Carson, Carson was very silent on the plagiarism. You can read D.A. Carson’s thoughts about plagiarism here. I would be fascinated to know if Carson participated in academic discipline at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school of any student for plagiarism. If he was engaged in disciplining a student at Trinity while giving Mark Driscoll a pass because he was a Neo-Calvinist then I would suggest that Carson’s corruption disqualifies him from being in academia. You can’t have it both ways on plagiarism. In many universities plagiarism is a serious issue, and this situation also highlights how many evangelicals struggle with ethics and conflict of interest issues.
But returning to the greater issues at hand, the question relevant to people who attend McLean Bible is the following. If McLean Bible is going to be in bed with an organization that has a horrific track record when it comes to child sex abuse, why would any person who has been molested, raped, or the victim of sex crime want to attend McLean Bible, knowing its participation and support for The Gospel Coalition? Is a sexually assaulted child count as one of the “least of these“? Is child sex abuse a sin? Or is this truth too inconvenient to hear? The blatant corruption within the Gospel Coalition is a grave threat to the very Gospel that Jesus preached himself. By ignoring the least of these and normalizing corruption a class of Pharisees has arisen that spits in the face of Jesus by their behavior. Jesus came to serve not be served. The Gospel Coalition has it backwards in that they are not here to serve, instead they expect their pastors to be served.
These are difficult and unpopular questions, I know. I don’t enjoy asking them, but someone has to ask the difficult questions for the health of the organization. There is also another concern that members of McLean Bible should be concerned with and its this fact. A church that changes its polity or doctrine can have adverse consequences in ways that members haven’t considered. Let me explain many Evangelical Free Churches and Southern Baptist Churches have been hijacked by Neo-Calvinists. In the process, long-established members of those churches and denominations found themselves facing “church discipline.” Why you ask? Was it because they engaged in something sordid like an affair or other unethical behavior? No…people have faced discipline for not believing in TULIP or full Neo-Calvinist doctrine, questioning material now being preached by a pastor or not “submitting to authority” under some twisted and bastardized application of Hebrews 13:17.
I, in good conscious, could never get involved in a church affiliated with The Gospel Coalition. It’s too dirty, I would feel like I’d have to shower before church and after church due to how corrupt The Gospel Coalition is as an entity. Ministry that is pure should not act like the Italian mafia in how it conducts itself. Along with the corruption which harms Christianity, it’s also fueling the rate of people leaving Christianity and joining the ranks of the “nones” and “dones.” For atheists who talk about how corrupt Christianity is as an entity, the behavior of organizations like The Gospel Coalition only play into atheist thinking and legitimize it. We’re called to be Bereans and these kinds of questions need to be asked in the long run.
McLean Bible needs to be transparent when it comes to its theological allegiances. These are some of the questions I have that I would be asking if I were a member of McLean Bible:
- When did McLean Bible join The Gospel Coalition?
- Did Lon Solomon notify the congregation that this was being considered?
- Did the congregation or any members have a say on joining The Gospel Coalition? Or was this done in a behind the scenes drug deal with heavy cigar smoke hanging in the air?
- If current members notice changes happening because of McLean Bible’s affiliation with The Gospel Coalition are they free to resign their membership and walk away? Or will they face “church discipline” for trying to walk away?
People are getting hurt in churches today. Frankly, spiritual abuse is a sin, it’s a serious sin that is rampant in modern evangelicalism. It’s an issue that we need to have some honest discussion about. It is not an infrequent problem but instead a major problem that is a threat to the church. The scene today is much more complex than what it was in the past. The denominational lines have been blurred. By the way, can I be frank? Non-denominational is a denomination. It’s like saying atheism isn’t a faith system. Since the theological lines have been blurred, more people are prone to getting hurt. In the past it was easier to avoid spiritual manipulation and questionable churches as denominations helped keep things in check. Today with the rise of many non-denominational churches that are accountable to no one, especially when pastors can influence who can be an Elders, what often happens is that you have a pastor surrounded by a bunch of “yes men” who lack objectivity and neutrality.
If Christians cared about the Gospel they would be asking such questions and not turning a blind eye and sticking their head in the sand. Again these are questions that need to be asked in this modern evangelical climate. In closing I will leave you with a song at Hillsong I remember being played regularly at McLean Bible years ago. Again I love you guys!