Why the Modern Evangelical Church Needs to Air its Dirty Laundry: Lessons from the Challenger Disaster and Ronald Reagan’s Call for Soviet Transparency

The modern evangelical church is filled with corruption…it’s time to take our dirty laundry and air it for the world to see. There are reasons why this is done, in the end it forces change. To make my case I am going to use one of the greatest tragedies in the history of NASA – that of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. During the Cold War a challenge by Ronald Reagan to the Soviet Union illustrated how mistakes are dealt with publically. This is a post on why the evangelical church needs to be transparent.



73 seconds into liftoff of Challenger (CBS News)

“I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.”

Ronald Reagan January 28, 1986 Address to the Nation on the loss of Challenger

“A basic tenet of healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency.”

Peter Fenn

“The good parts about being a public company are increased  discipline, increased execution, and increased transparency to make sure that you really are building a company for a hundred years.” 

Dan Rosensweig

 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity[b] and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14 NIV


The Space Shuttle Program was officially known as the Space Transportation System. It began in 1981 with the launch of the Columbia and probably became NASA’s most well known program. In 1984 Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project with the goal of flying a teacher into space as a payload specialist. The plan was to use the program to inspire and generate interest in science, mathematics and space exploration. In the program over 10,000 teachers submitted applications to participate in the program from all 50 states. Eventually the 113 finalists would be interviewed by NASA and one would be selected to ride in the space shuttle. The semi-finalists gathered in Washington, D.C. from June 22 -27, 1985 for a conference and to meet with the panel who would chose the final 10 teachers. On July 1, 1985 a school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire by the name of Christa McAuliffe learned that she was one of the final candidates. On July 19, 1985 Vice President George Bush announced McAuliffe to be the primary candidate and the back up was Barbara Morgan. After being chosen Christa McAuliffe trained with the other astronauts for this mission and also became a media sensation as she was known as the “first teacher in space.” The other astronauts are as following: Francis Scobee as the commander, Michael Smith as the pilot, Ronald McNair as the mission specialist, Ellison Onizuka as the mission specialist, Judith Resnik as the mission specialist, Gregory Jarvis as the payload specialist. The crew trained in anticipation of the shuttle mission.

The window for the launch of Challenger kept getting pushed back due to weather concerns. The freezing conditions were viewed as a safety issue. On multiple separate occasions  the launch was delayed. On the evening of January 27 NASA held a conference call with one of its contractors Morton Thiokol which is based in Utah. Morton Thiokol built some of the key components in the  Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) that the space shuttle program used for launching in space. On January 27, 1986 NASA and Thiokol discussed launching Challenger the next day.  Several Thiokol engineers were concerned about the cold weather and the effects it could have and were against launch. They wanted to postpone the launch even though they did not have the data to back up their claims.  There was concern about the rubber O rings in the boosters and the thinking by some in NASA is that if one failed then the backup would support it. Thiokol management supported their engineers who recommended postponing the launch. In the conference call NASA pushed back, when key individual Lawrence Mulloy stated, “My God, Thiokol,  When do you want me to launch – next April?” Thiokol reversed itself and gave its consent to the launch. One of the engineers involved in the process, Bob Ebeling, told his wife that evening that the Challenger would explode.

On January 28, 1986 the Challenger crew had their breakfast at 6:48 a.m. In the NASA pre-launch suits many watched the crew leave and depart for the launch pad. Before Christa McAuliffe boarded the Challenger the ground crew gave her an apple for good luck. Outside about 500 people were there to observe the launch of the space shuttle. Included were Christa McAuliffe’s parents and some of her school children from Concord, New Hampshire. As the countdown continued the crowd counted down to 0. At 11:38 east coast time the Challenger lifted off from the Cape Canaveral launch pad. The crowd which was observing cheered the launch.  As it raced into the sky being propelled by the solid rocket boosters a plume of black smoke appeared at 27 seconds into the launch. At 68 seconds into the flight Richard O Covey from CAPCOM gave the infamous words, “Challenger go at throttle up.” Commander Dick Scobee replied “Roger, go at throttle up…” At 73 seconds the Challenger exploded with the two solid rocket boosters going into separate directions.  The crowd below including Christa McAuliffe’s parents watched and didn’t know what was happening as there was confusion. That confusion turned to fear, shock, and finally NASA announced that there was a major malfunction. This was the first time in NASA’s history that a vehicle was lost in flight. Many people believe that the crew of Challenger survived the explosion but killed upon impact when they hit the Atlantic. It took time before the Air Force could send in recovery teams into the area due to falling debris. If you want to watch the explosion and the news coverage of it you can watch the link below. To this day I remember when Challenger exploded. I was in the 5th grade and was shocked.

Ronald Reagan’s Speech and Challenge to the Soviet Union

On January 28, 1986 Ronald Reagan was scheduled to give the annual State of the Union Speech. Reagan postponed the State of the Union and declared that it was a time for grief. The speech that Reagan eventually gave was written quickly by Peggy Noonan a Reagan speech writer. There was a study that was done by the University of Wisconsin and Texas A & M that ranked and looked at the most historical speeches of the 20th century. Reagan’s speech on the Challenger disaster is one of the most significant speeches that were given. It falls below Malcom X “ballot of the bullet” speech and Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech that saved his place on the 1952 campaign ticket with Eisenhower.

But there was another factor that Reagan knew. This accident with the Challenger had occurred before a watching world. It also happened during the Cold War which was very hot at the time. For example the war in Afghanistan was ongoing and the country was occupied by Soviet troops. A summit had just occurred shortly before between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva, Switzerland. Gorbachev himself was only in power for less than a year when he was elected as the General Secretary of the Communist Party in March of 1985.  In Europe meanwhile NATO was rolling out Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany  which was deeply controversial and lead to protests. During this time the Soviet Union was not being transparent and Reagan knew this. This is precisely why in a speech addressed to children and NASA workers he also said the following sentence. “I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.” In this sentence Ronald Reagan directly challenged the Soviet Union to be transparent about its dealings and mistakes. A commission was created that would eventually study and report back to the President on what happened with Challenger. It was called the Rogers Commission and was led by William P Rogers who was the Secretary of State under Richard Nixon. The investigation was done openly and a report was released and given to the President on June 9, 1986. In it the Commission discovered errors within NASA that led to the disaster.  The Commission found that the problem rested with faulty O rings on the solid rocket booster. The findings by the Commission are the following:

  • This was an “accident rooted in history.” In other words the Rogers Commission determined that it was the failure of both NASA and Morton Thiokol to respond to a design flaw. The Commission found that as early as 1977 NASA managers had known about problems with the O-ring. This was a problem waiting to happen.
  • The report strongly criticized the decision making process that led to the launch of the Challenger. It drew attention to the conference call that occurred on January 27, 1986 where Morton Thiokol engineers were opposed to the launch and gave into the pressure. What the report indicated was a problem in group think and communication related issues. There were many members that could have stopped the launch but who choose not to do so. There was a failure in NASA management and it was due to a lack of checks and balances.

A number of recommendations were given to President Reagan and the shuttle program was grounded for a couple of years. The lesson of the Challenger is one that is used by schools, government, corporations, engineers and beyond to analyze the problems in group think and culture. I write all this to lay the foundation for what I am about to go into and discuss.


“We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public.”

Ronald Reagan was correct…you don’t keep secrets and cover things up. That holds especially true for the modern evangelical Christian church. Transparency is everything, its the foundation of trust. Trust needs to be earned and done in a way that people are won over. Trust is not immediately bestowed upon people, their actions dictate whether it is earned. Transparency is key for any organization…but especially the modern evangelical church. Why does the world have higher ethics than many evangelical Christian churches? Why does the world approach things with more transparency at times?

There are a number of evangelicals who believe that we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry publically. That we should keep it hush-hush and look the other way. To that I say the following: Nothing could be more un-Biblical and wrong. In addition I also want to ask for those who don’t believe that scandal or dirty laundry should be aired I have to ask…what Bible are they reading? For example consider what is aired out in the Bible:

  • In Genesis 9:20-25 you read about Noah getting drunk and laying around intoxicated wearing nothing.
  • In Genesis 19:30-36 there is the story of Lot and his two daughters. Lot’s daughters get him intoxicated so they can have sex with him. In this story you read about incest being practiced.
  • In 2 Samuel you have David’s oldest son, who was the heir apparent raping Tamar.  Ammon was later killed for this action.
  • In Genesis 4 you have the story of the very first murder when Cain killed his brother Able.
  • In Exodus 2:12 you have the story of Moses killing an Egyptian.
  • In The New Testament you have the story of Judas betrayal of Jesus.
  • Likewise in the New Testament you have the story of the false accusation against Jesus.

I could go on…but I believe I have made my point. The Bible doesn’t cover things up. It doesn’t hide, conceal of try to kick something under the bed or carpet. To the contrast, it exposes and reveals corruption. It is for this reason why I find many blogs who expose corruption and issues to be Biblical and more in line with scripture. That is preciously the reason why blogs like mine, The Wartburg Watch, Phoenix Preacher, Thou Art the Man, Spiritual Sounding Board, Warren Throckmorton, Nate Sparks,  Amy Smith and so many others are so in tune with scripture. The Bible doesn’t cover up nefarious behavior, murder, theft, greed, incest, rape, or abuse. Neither should we….

It is for that reason why I eventually wrote about Fairfax Community Church and exposed a difficult situation in regard to Fairfax’s Care Director Eric Nickle being on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s sex offender registry. Fairfax should not have concealed, they should not have mislead the congregation. For the church to be transparent the following situations below need to be probed:

  • C.J. Mahaney’s allegations of covering up child sex abuse need to be exposed. He needs to be held accountable and realize that he is not above the law.
  • C.J. Mahaney’s financial money trail needs to be followed. It has already led to Al Mohler. It also sniffs to Wayne Grudem..but who else? Has Justin Taylor, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, or Ligon Duncan accepted money from C.J. Mahnaey? If so how much? If so when? If so under what guise?
  • Corruption in Sovereign Grace needs to be exposed. Its not just Sovereign Grace its also the Acts 29 network,  and many evangelical denominations.
  • Mark Driscoll needs a lot more probing. Where did the finances go from The Global Fund? Is there more plagiarism? Did other pastors who are supporting The Trinity Church benefit in any way?
  • What scandals lay within The Gospel Coalition? What is being kicked under the carpet?
  • Matt Chandler’s The Village Church tried to discipline a wife who annulled her marriage to a child pornography addict. What other case of in-appropriate church discipline have taken place at The Village Church?
  • What scandals are in the 9 Marks network? There are plenty and the world needs to learn of them. Jonathan Leeman…anything you care to say?
  • Exposing dirty laundry is needed for your church to be safe. A law abiding church has nothing to fear. Churches need to be fully transparent and the salaries of pastors, and the Senior Pastor need to be fully accessible to the congregation.

Ronald Reagan was correct…we shouldn’t  hide our secrets and we shouldn’t cover them up. The only way things will change is by airing them out publically. That is why many bloggers need to step it up and air the dirty laundry of the evangelical church. Transparency is vital for the health of the organization. We do it because it is the right thing to do, and because we love the church…too much to leave it in the state it currently is in. That is why I and others do what must be done. As always feel free to comment below. I love you guys!

20 thoughts on “Why the Modern Evangelical Church Needs to Air its Dirty Laundry: Lessons from the Challenger Disaster and Ronald Reagan’s Call for Soviet Transparency

  1. Wow Eagle, these are two things that I would not have thought related.

    Growing up I was a NASA groupie, it is probably the reason I became an engineer. My last year obtaining an engineering degree was when the Challenger disaster occurred. As part of the program I took a speech class that required giving a 15 minute speech at the end of the term. I chose the Challenger debacle as my subject.

    Glancing through my notes I find that my central point was the “autocratic management culture at the Marshal Space Flight Center”. In particular “the launch decision was only the final play” of a “badly flawed authoritarian culture that rigidly prevented an open discussion of problems”. So while you provide the solution as opening it up and shining a light in, I am struck by how the cause of the disaster so closely resembles the reasons I finally left a church I attended for decades. The text I quoted is something I wrote out 30 years ago and till now I had not put the two together.

    Wow Eagle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Speaking of blast from the past, the text was written on a Victor 9000 using Wordstar probably running on DOS 3.1. I remember how hard it was to get unvarnished information back then. Back then it was called scuttlebutt and it traveled in small circles.


    • Bill I read an interesting article in the Washington Post that led to me writing this article. One thing I will say…people who read me will learn a lot of history in the process. 😉


    • I used a training film featuring the process of power/peer pressure in groupthink over the Morton Thycol/NASA disaster in many organizations over the years. It was a disaster everyone knew about but had no idea how it came to be. Groupthink is a disaster whether in corporations, government, church or even a blog. It suppresses thinking and spits on the importance of ideas.

      People often do not even know they are in the middle of groupthink until some disaster strikes and the bother to do an honest analysis. I think many Mars Hill former members might be going through this now.

      There were few at Morton willing to give up their careers over this. That is unfair but is often the requirement for a clean conscious.


      • For me the term groupthink is accurate but incomplete. It is groupthink driven by an authoritarian culture. It is an example of cognitive dissonance, people rationalize they are free agents and think they are free to disagree and think for themselves but they actually don’t understand how they have been manipulated into conformity by fear of authority. It is only when disaster strikes or they free themselves from the toxic environment that some, and only some, are able to grasp how they were beguiled.

        It does not cease to amaze me how people are unable to admit certain things because it will conflict with their view of themselves. In the case of authoritarian groupthink people are unwilling to admit they have made an error by being manipulated. I think it is actually easier for them to admit a personal error than to admit they were following a fraud. To put it another way, we can rationalize how we made a mistake and can change our mind, it is much much harder task to admit that we have debased ourselves by a series of compromises with a toxic environment to the point that we no longer have good judgement.

        Liked by 2 people

      • In the case of authoritarian groupthink people are unwilling to admit they have made an error by being manipulated.

        And THAT is the secret to a successful con job. Get the marks so financially and emotionally invested in the con that they can’t back out, even when they KNOW they’re being taken to the cleaners. Because backing out means admitting to themselves that they got swindled. Once the hook is in, the marks will even defend the con man — doubled down and screaming LOUDER!


      • Re Groupthink in general: Has anyone heard of a study claiming an 80/20 Rule in ideology, that once a given group reaches 80% consensus on something, Groupthink locks in and the 20% is Purged?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You know what gets me? Reading how Bob Ebeling grieved his role in the Challenger disaster for decades and then looking at how Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney don’t give a damn. All these destroyed lives and yet they continue. Its yet one more reason why someone needs to challenge these bastards…pardon my language.


    • You know what gets me? Reading how Bob Ebeling grieved his role in the Challenger disaster for decades and then looking at how Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney don’t give a damn. All these destroyed lives and yet they continue. Its yet one more reason why someone needs to challenge these bastards…pardon my language.”

      We can start by publicly challenging their credibility. The excuses people use to prop them up are irrational technical details and/or scripture twisting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bill, you are spot on. The authority can even be media sources or group Affiliation’s. A lot of blogs end up that way.

        An SBC pastors blog, sbcvoices, recently ran a piece about the corruption/ sexual assault at Baylor. And suggested that the other Baptists they are affiliated with do something.

        OK, well and good. But the real problem is this blog has deleted anyone who mentions Mahaney and SGM and their status now as SBC. They have never acknowledged the victims or the lawsuit. It is verboten.

        A commenter asked why that is and why there seems to be no problem with SGL joining the SBC and was accused by the moderator, Pastor Dave Miller, of making it about Calvinism when the commenter did not even mention Calvinism!. I saw the comment before it was deleted.

        These are what passes for pastors. But what about the other commenters? They go right along. The author is a trustee at SWBTS.

        Never mind those children (now adults) at SGM. The lack of conscious is astonishing.


  3. But the MenaGAWD have far more in common with the Politboro and Inner Party of the Soviet Union.

    Up to and including the ManaGAWD’s face ten meters tall on all the Telescreens at all the “franchise campuses” each and every Sunday.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Revealing My Identity and Bracing for the Long Haul; On Monday We Get to Work | Wondering Eagle

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