An analysis of the issues at Steve Estes Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. This looks at the problems of nepotism, conflict of interest, ethical problems, are illegalities being reported and a host of deep systemic concerns. This also is a source in linking all the articles about Steve Estes’ church.
“…the most repentant man he had seen in his 30 years of ministry.”
Steve Estes on his son Brock after he allegedly sexually assaulted his wife and pointed a loaded gun at her.
“I could be dead this morning…”
Hurit the morning after her husband Brock David Estes allegedly pointed a loaded gun at his wife.
“Hurit, I would consider that rape…”
Matt Carter December 3, 2014 Bakers Table
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — both are detestable to the Lord.
Proverbs 17:15 NLT
Since I moved to D.C. from Wisconsin I will dedicate this video of Green Bay Packers Quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, to Steve Estes. After all he coached, and orchestrated the take down of his daughter-in-law as the QB of the Elders at CEFC
I want to write a post that would analyze the situation at Steve Estes Community Evangelical Free Church (CEFC) in Elverson, Pennsylvania. But before I do I want to list all the posts that have been written.
- The first post is an overview of the history of CEFC, Brock and Hurit’s marriage, Brock’s troubles to include allegedly sexually assaulting his wife while intoxicated and pointing a loaded gun at her. Hurit knows she could be dead because of Brock’s behavior. This post also covers the way in which Steve Estes and the Elders orchestrated an excommunication to protect Brock as he works for Burke County as a jail guard. This post is called, Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.
- The second post is about Hurit’s Excommunication service and members appealing this situation to the Eastern District Superintendent at the time Steve Musser where their pleas for help fell on deaf ears. People appealed for help to the National Evangelical Free Church of America where they were ignored. The Evangelical Free Church knew a domestic abuse victim was disciplined and was okay with it. This post is called, Hurit’s Public Excommunication While Alleged Criminal Activity by Brock Estes is Withheld from the Congregation: Appeals for Help Fall on Deaf Ears to Steve Musser of the Eastern District and National Evangelical Free Church of America.
- The third post is an open letter to the Senior Pastor of CEFC Steve Estes. This post explains why Steve needs to repent and the reasons he should. This provides an out for him from this situation.
- The fourth post is an open letter to Matt Carter, CEFC’s Youth Pastor who told Hurit that she was the victim of a sexual assault yet less than 10 days later led her excommunication service.
- The next post is a comment that I turned into a quick post. It was written by someone in Elverson, and just lays out the facts of the situation. It’s a very compelling post.
- The next post is an open letter to Hurit that is designed to encourage her. It discusses Brock’s gun incident and Brock blaming his wife at the time for his pornography addiction. This also challenges members at CEFC to reach out to those who left and vote with their feet.
- The next post I did for Hurit knowing that she is proud of her Native American heritage. This is called, Hurit’s Heritage: A Survey of the Cree and Ojibwi/Chippawa Tribes .
There is much to analyze in the situation of Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. I have been writing about this organization for the past two weeks and I would like to do some analysis of the problems and issues. Having said that lets get right into the issues at hand.
- Ordination in the Evangelical Free Church Issues: When concerned former members contacted the Evangelical Free Church of America the denomination in response said that there was nothing that could be done. No one knows as to where Steve Estes was ordained, or if he has been. He graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary. This part of the polity needs to be changed as I see it as being dangerous and negligent to this denomination. There’s no accountability. What do you do if you have criminal conduct in “the local church?” Can the denomination step in and do anything? What does it take in the end…an investigation by the local District Attorney.?
- Membership Covenant Issues: The situation at Community Evangelical Free Church reminds us why you should never sign a membership covenant. Membership covenants are a modern form of slavery, which enslave people. If you signed a membership covenant in 2006 at Community who would have imagined that eight years later such an issue would affect a church? Who would have imagined that the Senior Pastor’s son who allegedly engaged in sexual assault and domestic abuse would affect such a congregation in the manner that it did. Caveat emptor! This is a good example of why you do not sign a membership covenant under any circumstances. If you want to read more about problems with membership covenants, this post helps explain them. Also check out this post as well.
- Money/Fundraising Issues: I am absolutely astounded that when I read or encounter church corruption situations why is it that the church is engaged in a fundraising campaign for a new building? Or they are undergoing a growth plan? Why? Think of the waste…Community doesn’t need an additional building. This becomes an even bigger issue as the result of the scandal brought about by the Senior Pastor Steve Estes and his son Brock. Now you have families leaving the church…what will happen? Will the remaining families be under pressure to pick up the slack? Will the remaining families face more pressure when it comes to leaving because the Senior Pastor is convinced that you build at all costs? But stop and think of the excess money being wasted. Consider what 4 or 5 million can do for the poor in Philadelphia or in Pittsburgh? Think of the rural poor in the Pennsylvania countryside that could be helped by that money? The waste is disturbing! This post reveals why church growth is an idol for many evangelical Christians.
- How Corruption Cascades: This situation at Community Evangelical Free Church illustrates how corruption cascades and ensnares others. It’s also why organizations in the public and private sector have a zero tolerance policy for corruption. Corruption, unchecked spreads, and drags in others. Many people get hurt in the end. One of the reasons why I have been asked to write about this is to prevent further people from being entangled. Let me illustrate with this example. After Brock Estes allegedly pointed a gun at his wife, one of his friends took the gun from him. Now in this situation that friend Ryan Smith is a Police Officer in the nearby town of Pottsgrove. Ryan had a duty as a law enforcement officer to report the incident immediately. Instead his actions allegedly violated his duty as an officer and allegedly broke the law. Instead of reporting the incident Ryan is now looked at through the lens of showing favoritism. Plus, there is more by not reporting the incident he likely violated law. One additional point is this…did Ryan in taking the firearm from Brock also engage in theft? If Brock did not give his consent was the law violated in how a firearm was handled? The situation that involves a police officer illustrates what happens when corruption is allowed to grow and fester. It drags in other people. If Steve Estes had intervened directly and early on…would this situation have possibly affected Ryan Smith’s career? My contention no….Steve Estes’s corruption in the end also hurt Ryan.
- Church Discipline Problems: Church discipline is the rage amongst the Neo-Calvinists and yet this situation illustrates the problems with church discipline. While Community is not a 9 Marks church, maybe I’ll email Jonathan Leeman and ask him to talk about this situation. Church discipline is clearly not ready to be used by many churches and this situation illustrates why. Discipline is often subject and only applies to the members in the pews. For example in Neo-Calvinism we see that C.J. Mahaney and Mark Dever are exempt from church discipline despite running from their membership at Covenant Life Church, or violating 9 Marks for a friend. In this case, Steve Estes joins the ranks of his pals by refusing and being incapable of doing discipline properly. In this situation church discipline was subjective and highly questionable. The emphasis was on Hurit’s divorce not on the fact that Brock Estes had allegedly raped his wife, nor that he had allegedly pointed a gun at his wife. In this case church discipline shows how rank has its privileges. In this case since the alleged law breaker is the Senior Pastor’s son, the nephew of two of the elders, which of them served as his shepherding elder through the entire process. The other one said they needed to “protect his job” and yet he is exempt from the discipline. And here is the other question I have in this situation….when is Steve Estes going to be disciplined by Community Evangelical Free Church? For Steve’s role in covering up alleged criminal activity. When will there be a special service to turn Steve over to Satan? When nepotism enters the picture all bets are off. I will touch upon nepotism below in further detail. For information on church discipline I wrote this post here.
- Bastardization of Scripture: This is intended to link into church discipline problems as well as in this case they are linked. Let’s examine 1 Corinthians 5:11. “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” Today I am of the opinion that anything can be justified using scripture. This was the verse used to ex-communicate Hurit. Let’s examine this…how much of this pertains to Brock Estes? Sexual immorality would be the pornography, which replaced his wife. The aspect of being a drunkard would apply as well given his history of alcoholism. The aspect of swindler in going before the church and reading a dishonest statement is another aspect. Never, ever assume that a church, even a Biblical based church that touts its credentials can’t twist and distort scripture. Consider what CEFC says on its webpage about who is attracted there: want to be challenged by serious teaching about the Bible that makes them think. Since Steve Estes can orchestrate and create this…this is my belief why he should not be a Pastor. There is more to say which I will get in below.
- Nepotism Issues: This is a major issue in many parts of evangelicalism. I am amazed as to how many churches have a family that has a lock, grip or control of the Elder board, pastoral staff, or the church. In this case consider what the Stoltzfus family has control over…is there objectivity when family ties and reputation are at stake? Absolutely not I would suggest. Consider how nepotism influenced the Elder board? Consider how nepotism influenced an ex-communication of a former family member. This by the way is one of the drawbacks of being in a small community. But it goes beyond that…who got the contract to build the new building at Community Evangelical Free Church? It was the Stoltzfus family….there wasn’t any independent bidding or other offers. Many professions such as the military, government, financial industry, health care, and others have policies in place to deter and try and prevent nepotism. The situation at Community Evangelical Free illustrates why this is so needed.
- Ethical Conflict of Interest: I want to illustrate with an example…as you know I have studied a lot of history in college and graduate school. One thing that popped in my mind is a classic example of how to deal with a conflict of interest. In 1974 the Watergate scandal was consuming the country. There was an effort to get the Nixon Administration to turn over the Watergate tapes, from the taping system in the White House. The President refused, and the legal battle reached the United States Supreme Court. The case was known as The United States of America vs. Richard Nixon. In an 8-0 decision the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the White House tapes. One Supreme Court Justice, William Rehnquist recused himself from the decision. He did so because he formerly served in the Nixon Administration as the Assistant Attorney General. That is a classic example of a conflict of interest and how it is handled. Conflict of interest is a serious issue, and its something that the government, military, financial industry, and medical profession take very seriously. These are some of the conflicts of interest that I see in Community Evangelical Free Church.
- The Senior Pastor Steve Estes cannot lead a church when his son is the center of scandal. Any issues or problems are always going to affect Steve’s ability to lead, teach, etc… Steve Estes should not have written the charges against his daughter-in-law. The Elders referred to him as their quarterback.
- David Stoltzfus should have stepped away from the role of Elder Board and Brock’s personal shepherding elder. By being Brock’s Uncle his ability to function in a role as an Elder is compromised. Merle Stoltzfus should have stepped away as well.
- Dave Stoltzfus and Merle Stoltzfus indicate how family business is tricky and complicated. They should have opened up the bidding decision to other companies. Since that didn’t happen its my analysis that the Stoltzfus are personally profiting from Community Evangelical Free Church.
- There is an ethical conflict of interest in having the Senior Pastor of Community Evangelical Free Church on the board of the Christian Community & Education Foundation. How can you be committed or involved in running CCEF when your own son has allegedly engaged in domestic abuse and sexual assault? This puts CCEF in the position of having to cover up his misdeeds and taints the organization. You really can’t have it both ways.
- Problems in Elder Lead Government: Elder led government is the rage amongst the Neo-Calvinist movement. Yet this shows how flawed the Plurality of Elders can be. When you have family connections and those members of your family become on the board it overrides the system. If Steve Estes can guide through an ex-communication trial, it is well within reason to ask…can he steer who gets on the Elder committee of Community Evangelical Free Church? If he can, then his Elder Board is nothing but a bunch of “yes men” who are there to serve the pastor’s intentions and will. They are not there for the benefit of the community or health of the church. This shows yet again how flawed the plurality of Elders can be. The Elders in this case are steamrolling dissent and when people raise or ask questions cannot. For all the hype you read about the plurality of Elders this highlights why such a system is intrinsically flawed.
- Illegalities and Scripture: Many people in the Neo-Reformed movement claim to hold a high view of scripture…and my question is the following. Do they really have a high view of scripture? It’s my understanding that Community Evangelical Free Church disciplined someone for not paying their taxes. If that is the case then I would be willing to bet they used Romans 13 as the foundation for discipline. Yet if you look at Romans 13 its not only about paying taxes its about submitting to the state. Here is the problem…up above I highlighted what happens when scripture is made an idol and put through a wood chipper. The Bible is picked and selected based upon convenience. I would propose that scripture is much more complex than people want to believe. In this case you have the Senior Pastor’s son who engaged in alleged illegalities. If the church is going to hold a high view of scripture why haven’t the authorities or the state been contacted about Brock David Estes behavior? I mean after all…allegedly pointing a gun at your wife is a crime…is it not? Likewise an alleged sexual assault is a crime..is it not? If Brock Estes could treat his wife in that manner then it is well within reason to ask the following question. As a jail guard at Berks County Jail has Brock abused a prisoner or someone under his care? Here’s the problem Brock has said that he doesn’t remember the incidents, and then he has also said that he does. If he can remember them then it is within reason to ask that since he could do that while conscious and awake, can he also do the same thing with prisoners? The situation is dire and why someone needs to contact his employer and make them aware of the situation. Brock as a civil servant cannot have any hint or corruption. If there is an incident at Berks County Jail in all likelihood the facility will likely cast doubt upon the inmate, as the inmate will be viewed as questionable. The inmate because of this situation is vulnerable. This is why an outside party needs to make a phone call and make authorities aware of this situation. Romans 13 is one of the key verses in scripture that we as Christians are called to follow. I find it incredible that organizations who claim to hold high an “inerrant and literal view of scripture” often disregard this verse. It’s why churches should report child sex abuse, domestic abuse, embezzlement, financial crimes and the like.
- Steve Estes Self-Motivation for Preserving Power: I have to tell you that I have spoken to many people and read lots of documentation about Steve Estes and the situation of Community Evangelical Free Church. There is one thing I slowly realized in this entire situation. This church discipline of Hurit is about preserving power. Rather than face the fact that Steve failed as a father in regards to raising his family, he chose to deflect and go after the domestic abuse victim. Let me ask you…is that what a man does? Is a man deflect and spin the situation on someone else…or does he say instead, “Nope I failed, I screwed up…I was wrong. Let me fix this…” The people who crave and are drunk for power are the ones you have to keep out of power. Its like politics, and I see Steve Estes operating in the same manner that Richard Daley governed Chicago. Its become clear to me that Steve Estes has put his pulpit and his career ahead of his family. What he should have done is intervene in the marriage and forced Brock Estes into treatment. Instead what he did…is ignore it. From my understanding he never raised these issues or expressed any concern for his daughter-in-law. He never reached out and forced an intervention. Now the sad thing is that if he did that he could have rescued his pulpit and shown some leadership. It would show tremendous courage had he done taken that course of action. Instead what he decided to do is going after his former daughter-in-law and drive her from the marriage. This may be pushing it…but can one say this? Hurit Estes was first allegedly sexually assaulted by Brock Estes. That alleged rape was followed up by Community Evangelical Free Church in how they treated Hurit.
- Shunning: There is one aspect of this situation that I find incredibly beautiful and I want to single out a number of people. But before I explain let me backtrack a little bit and explain another horrific situation. When Matt Chandler’s The Village Church disciplined Karen Hinkley for her annulling her marriage to a child pornography addict the church had her shunned. People who were close to Karen shunned and treated her horrifically. I was angry over that situation and if I were in Karen’s community and I was told to shun her I would have said, “Screw it!” and reached out to her. That is what happened in this situation with Hurit and I want to single out a number of people who have done that. They drew a line in the sand to Matt Carter, Steve Estes and Al Kimball. They refused to abandon a sexual assault victim. Instead they reached out to her ignored the order to shun Hurit and voted with their feet. More people need to act this way, and in this situation it screams of their bravery. Their bravery is masterful, courageous and far from easy. To stand up to your enemies is hard…but to stand up to your friends who you have known in a community is amazing. Hats off Hurit’s friends for their courage. In this moment of need by Hurit they stood and walked in solidarity with someone at a time when they needed it most. Acts of bravery scream the Gospel and this act of bravery is impressive. Those families who resigned or walked away or those few there who are challenging the Elder board and contesting them need to be commended.
- Gossip and Controlling Speech: As I have read and looked at the situation the one thing that stands how is how Community has redefined gossip and speech. Let me explain….it is not gossip to discuss the facts. The serious allegations are the following: First Brock Estes allegedly pointed a gun at his wife. Second he sexually assaulted his wife when he was intoxicated. To talk about the facts is not gossip…after all I have been told by several sources that Brock Estes confessed to the incidents and has been open about them. Did Brock Estes engage in gossip when he confirmed the allegations and admitted to them? Gossip is to talk about trite and unnecessary speech for no redeeming purpose. In this situation the Senior Pastor’s son allegedly comitted a crime. Its not gossip to discuss these allegations…..actually due to the serious nature of the charges I would find it important to discuss the situation. To control people’s speech and redefine the situation is flat out wrong. Cults and questionable sects are brillant in how they practice this very behavior. For Community to behave in such a way where as they try and control speech in the privacy of your bedroom…that should be a cause for outrage. I wonder if Brock’s new girlfriend would consider it gossip to hear about the allegations of violence? Another thing to consider is how speech is manipulated by Steve Estes as he set the stage for taking down his daughter-in-law. This is the basis for the Tongues Project which Steve introduced on January 12, 2014. The timing is crucial in deceptive speech.
- Would Mandatory Reporting Laws be Followed? Here is a question that needs to be raised. This story poses a lot of questions and issues that beg exploration. For example…Mike Culbert and his wife Kelly prayed that Hurit would be turned over to Satan. It is my understanding that Mike Culbert knew about the domestic abuse allegations and in the end did nothing. He knew about the alleged incident with the gun, and still did nothing. Now if Mike Culbert knew about those illegalities and didn’t report it…it begs the question what else is he not reporting? For example, and this is particularly sad, because Mike Culbert was voted as the Teacher of the Year in 2014. Pennsylvania has mandatory reporting laws and if Mike Culbert is going to not report allegations of illegal activity to law enforcement, as a teacher would he report child sexual abuse, and other red flags as they occur? That is a question I would like to throw out for discussion below.
- Is The Evangelical Free Church a Safe Place for Sexual Assault Victims? Here is the final question I would like to explore much more deeply in a stand alone post. But is the Evangelical Free Church of America a safe place for sexual assault victims? I mean consider…Steve Estes has no problems imposing church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim. The Evangelical Free denomination is made aware of the situation and chooses to not get involved. Then you have this other horrific situation that also has its fingerprints all over the Evangelical Free Church of America. In May of 2013 when the Sovereign Grace lawsuit was thrown out on a technicality due to statute of limitation issues, D.A. Carson, along with Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung attacked a rape victim all to defend C.J. Mahaney. Now D.A. Carson did this while as a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school. When he attacked a rape victim, no one from the Evangelical Free said a thing. No one rebuked him, instead the denomination was silent. I look at that situation in new light when I realize that the Evangelical Free was okay with a Cree/Ojibwi Native American who was allegedly sexually assaulted by the Senior Pastor’s son. In light of all this behavior can I suggest that Evangelical Free churches post a sign out front that says, “Sexual Assault Victims are not welcome here.”
This has been a hard story to cover and developments are forthcoming. There are more stories in the works but this is an overview of the situation at Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. There are more posts in the works and as the situations develops it will be covered intensely. Plus I just subscribed to Steve Estes sermons so maybe I can do some more writing based upon what I hear. 🙂