Why Write about Church Corruption, Systemic and Systematic Issues? Lessons from the Creation of the National Park Service in 1916

The National Park Service turns 100 this month. Over a century ago a number of people had the vision, and drive to preserve national parks. They ran into difficulty, and went against the culture at the time. In time they convinced others that places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and others deserved protection. Religious bloggers are similar in that we love the church too much to keep it as is. We love the church and write and endure difficulty so that others will not. We write so that a person can attend an Evangelical Free Church or Southern Baptist Church in 2050 and worship in peace.



“Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds. This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark. None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.”

John Muir

“But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.”

John Muir on Yosemite

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Psalm 82:3-4 NIV


In the nineteenth century the United States expanded dramatically. With the acquisition of the Louisiana territory the United States doubled in size. As the country grew so did the interest in western expansion. There was an interest also in natural resources for growth, industrialization, and wealth. But at the time there weren’t many that were concerned with the preservation of what would become national parks. However, as some people viewed the west as land that was meant to be conquered some individuals became concerned that incredible natural treasures would be lost. The origins of what would become the national park service were created by George Cattlin. In the 1830’s he traveled the northern Great Plains of the United States and was amazed by what he saw. He both lamented the destruction of the Indian civilization and the beauty of nature. He longed for there to be a national park service one day to help preserve nature. Back east romantic portrayals of nature were written by such celebrated writers like Henry David Thoreau, and James Fennimore Cooper. Painters such as Thomas Cole and Frederick Edwin Church also drew attention to the beauty of nature.

In 1864 California Senator John Conness introduced legislation to protect the Mariposa  Grove and the Yosemite Valley. As the Civil War raged in the east Abraham Lincoln signed the order that protected Yosemite on June 30, 1864. Meanwhile Yellowstone was “officially” explored in the 1869 to 1871 timeframe by David Folsom, Henry Washburn and Ferdinand Heyden. A conversation around a campfire about preservation Yellowstone, which never actually happened, was used by advocates to lobby to create Yellowstone National Park.  The real roots of Yellowstone are actually in an effort to solve a territorial squabble. Newspapers between Montana and Wyoming fought viciously over who would govern Yellowstone. Would it be Montana? Or would it be Wyoming? By Congress declaring Yellowstone a federal park on March 1, 1872, the issue was solved and the first national park was created. As fate would have it Yellowstone became the first national park in the world. After Yellowstone was established the Northern Pacific railroad built to the park which helped make access easy and boosted its popularity. Railroads during this time entered the fray. There is one national park today that owes its existence to a railroad. Glacier National Park in Montana owes its existence to James J. Hill and the Great Northern Railway. Hill built a railroad empire from St. Paul west to Seattle and laid track through the park and in time had it declared a national park. As a result of his actions his transportation company had a monopoly on the park and lured wealthy travelers under the slogan, “See America First.”

Another individual who had a strong influence on the creation of the national park system is John Muir. Muir first visited Yosemite in 1868 and he was in awe as to what he witnessed. In the course of time Muir would become Yosemite’s biggest advocate. The following year he became a ranch hand and guided sheep in Tuolumne Meadows. He left Yosemite and published his first article in 1871 for the New York Tribune . In 1890 he lobbied successfully for Yosemite to become a  park in 1890. He toured and camped with Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. They spent three days together. Muir’s persuasion to both California leaders and Roosevelt led for Yosemite to be returned to the federal government where it was entrusted to its care. Muir lobbied for a creation of a national park service. Sadly he would not live long enough to see that become reality. Muir’s words not only protected Yosemite, but he is also credited with having created Sequoia National Park and the Grand Canyon as well. He also helped establish the Sierra Club and was its first president.

During this time when there was movement by a number of individuals to protect our national parks another organization appeared on the scene. It was called the National Geographic Society. It was founded in January of 1888 in the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.  National Geographic in the course of time  threw its support behind efforts to create a national park service as well. The person who helped that become possible is another key individual named  Stephen Mather. Mather was an industrialist who became quite successful in the borax industry and founded his own company. He devoted a great amount of time and was trying to get the federal government to create a national park service that would administer and protect all national parks. In 1915 Mather organized a Sierra Nevada mountain party for a number of businessman and journalists. He was trying to get people behind an effort to create a new national park service that he was lobbying. One of the people on that party was National Geographic’s editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor. He was so overwhelmed by what he saw that he threw himself, as well as the National Geographic Society’s efforts behind Mather’s plan. In April 1916 National Geographic published the now famous “Land of the Best” issue which called for the creation of a national park service. Copies of that National Geographic issue were sent to every member in Congress in an effort to lobby them. Representative William Kent of California and Senator Reed Smoot of Utah sponsored the National Park Service Organic Act. Before the bill was voted on people strolled into Congress and laid National Geographic’s “Land of the Best” issue on the desk of every member. On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed the act into law thus creating a new national park service under the umbrella of the Department of Interior. It would be responsible for administering all national parks and monuments in the United States. Mather would be the first director of the organization.

So why am I writing about preservation and the events that led to the creation of the national park service? There are a lot of lessons that can be learned. For example…

Many preservationists had the vision and foresight to see well beyond the current times. They thought of the future and cared enough to take a stand. They often ran into opposition and at times irritated organizations or groups. In the case of park preservation there were those who stood up to industries and clamored to speak about something that may not have been popular at the time. They had principle, and they were passionate. Muir spent the last 25 years of his life publishing and writing..but look what he accomplished? Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? Stood in the floor of Yosemite Valley and stare at the Half Dome? Ever walk to the base of Yosemite falls and be drenched with spray? All that effort led to the preservation of those parks for your enjoyment today. The next time you visit a national park contemplate this…it can be Denali, Crater Lake, Zion National Park, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Haleakala, Mesa Vede, Mount Rainer, and battlefields such as Antietam, Manassas, and Gettysburg all exist today and are preserved because a number of people had the vision to act and do something that would create a national park service that would protect incredible acts of beauty or places of incredible history and preserve it for future generations.

I would like to draw some comparisons with religious bloggers.

Why Write About Systemic Issues?

There are many of us who love the church, we love it too much to see it stay the way it is. We see problems, issues with authority, inappropriate church discipline, fads, cronyism, nepotism, and corruption that exist. In same cases the issues are much deeper, and they go back to the very foundations of the denomination or movement. For example one of the topics this blog is going to write about is the Evangelical Free Church of America. The roots of the Evangelical Free help explain many of its problems today. The denomination traces its roots back to Swedish and Norwegian immigrants, and their culture. A church that was set up for autonomy with the desired intent of allowing churches freedom to grow and do evangelism, instead was handed I believe its greatest weakness.  In its place that autonomy allows for people in the Neo-Calvinist crowd to come on board, hijack a church, and oversee and run it. A silent coup is what often happens under the noses of the members or their congregation. Systemic issues often  run deep and permeate through the denomination.

There is another reason why you write about systemic issues…it is the only way in the course of time that you can bring about change. For example in the current Neo-Calvinist movement there is this un-healthy obsession with discipline. Its toxic, dangerous and what should only be used once in a blue moon is used frequently and regularly. The damning part about church discipline is that the people up at top are often exempt. Mark Driscoll, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Matt Chandler, C.J. Mahaney, and Mark Mullery from Sovereign Grace Fairfax exempt. It actually goes beyond that to include a corrupt Evangelical Free pastor in the Northeast, or locally even Rod Stafford of Fairfax Community Church.  Change happens when issues like this are written about regularly and purposefully. For example the reason why there is more discussion and concern about church discipline today even amongst the Neo-Cal crowd is because of Matt Chandler’s The Village Church which tried to discipline Karen Hinkley who dissolved her marriage to a child pornography addict. I wrote about that situation here.

The only way change happens is when stories are written about regularly that highlight the problems that exist. Take the Evangelical Free denomination. Right now there are not a lot of stories publically. They exist….but not many people have written about them or gone public. Dr. Eddie Cole of the Eastern District is content with the way things are because he hasn’t seen how bad some of these stories are. The Evangelical Free church has no accountability. The head of the denomination in Minneapolis is content with where things are at as well. They see no need to address problems or issues of concern. That is why you write about systemic issues. The only way change happens is when there is a flow of steady and deeply disturbing stories that don’t let up. Those stories are an indicator that something is deeply wrong, and that something is deeply troubling.  Change will only happen when the following happens…

When there is a story of a corrupt Evangelical Free in Georgia that come forward.

When there is a story of a corrupt Evangelical Free in Pennsylvania comes forward.

When another story emerges out of an Evangelical Free in Illinois or Minnesota.

A case of horrific church discipline from California emerges that makes people sick to their stomach.

Only when those kinds of stories pour out and come forward will the denomination change, It won’t happen immediately, instead it will happen in time and gradual. Changes happens inch by inch, and that is what me and others need to fight for.

Modern Day John Muirs

Over a century ago John Muir stood on the floor of the Yosemite Valley and realized this is something that needed to be protected. The church is the same way. Those who are opposed to blogging think in the context of the tree as that is their focus. They are concerned with the individual church. Those of us who blog are concerned with the forest as that is what we are thinking. We write so that the church can be made healthy, and that difficult and disturbing aspects or issues are exposed. So why do I subject myself to difficult comments, and hate at times?  Why do I subject myself to difficult and awkward conversations with friends at times? Its simple…I do it so that those who are hurt and who were trampled know that they are loved. So that when an Evangelical Free Church disciplines a rape victim she knows that she is loved and that she is not by herself. Its done so that those in the difficult situation around can be guided out of it and find peace. When Andrew White falsely accused me of being a threat to his family it was the darkest night of my life, and I honestly wished someone could have reached out and done something to bring it to a close. That someone would intervene to do something in the course of time. That is what I longed for, and what I hoped. That is why I like to get in the trenches, roll up my sleeves and get to work.

There is another factor that is important as well. One writes about corruption and systemic issues because so that in 2040, or 2070 a person can go to an Evangelical Free Church and worship in peace, and not be hurt. The reason why you draw attention and endure the problems, pain and heartache, is that so other people do not. That is another reason why I write about these kinds of issues. They are not easy, nor are they pleasant, but write about them? Yes they must be written. That is the only way change will happen. That is why I look at people like Michael Newham, Nate Sparks, Julie Anne Smith, Dee Parsons, Deb Martin, Todd WilhelmAmy Smith, and a host of others should be looked at as modern day John Muirs who in a theological context do something that is necessary and needed. Those people endure hell, but its worth it in the end. Because it spares other people from hell and keeps them from being hurt. We love the church too much to leave it this way. What I endured I don’t want anyone else to endure. That is what drives, and drives, and drives me forward. Again as always please leave comments below. I love you guys! 🙂

7 thoughts on “Why Write about Church Corruption, Systemic and Systematic Issues? Lessons from the Creation of the National Park Service in 1916

  1. This is inspiring.

    I’ve been told that “good Christians” extend “grace” & don’t speak of such things.
    You’ve laid out a good case for why that is hogwash.

    People remain silent for a number of reasons:
    1. They’re embarrassed.
    2. They think nobody will believe their word against the word of a pastor or (shudder) elders.
    3. They believe they’ll be shunned (and, sadly, they’re sometimes right about this).
    4. They falsely believe that speaking up is wrong.
    5. They think they’re the only one this is happening to… because nobody else speaks up.
    Because… of #1-#4.

    And this is how Bill Cosby happens.

    One other problem:
    The misuse of the word, “gossip”.
    Gossip is when you pass on stories you’ve heard from other people, i.e. hear-say.
    That’s usually wrong, because those stories (unless one has permission) are for others to tell.
    But sharing one’s *own* experiences is *not* gossip.
    And when one speaks up & shares one’s own experience,
    pastors/elders are fond of admonishing the person not to “gossip”.
    They completely misappropriate the word.

    They’re also fond of purporting that the pastors/elders did nothing wrong.
    Well… if they did nothing wrong… then why, pray tell, do they want
    parishioners to not share their experiences & keep quiet? Surely, if
    they did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to hide, yes?

    The great thing about what you & other sites are doing to call attention to this,
    is that sometimes all it takes is one person to have the courage to say that
    “the emperor has no clothes” for others to have the courage to tell *their* stories.

    And then one finally gets justice for the Bill Cosbys of the world.

    Go well & God Bless, sir.

    Liked by 1 person

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