An Overview of Sandy Willson and Memphis Second Presbyterian Church; Plus When Individuals Like C.J., Carolyn Mahaney and Steve Estes are Promoted, Does that Help Transplant an Unhealthy Culture at Richard Rieves’ Church?

An overview of Memphis Second Presbyterian Church which is led by Senior Minister Sandy Willson. This looks at the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination and the excommunication of Dr. Nan Hawkes which made the front page of the Memphis  Commercial Appeal. Plus when people like C.J. Mahaney and Steve Estes are being promoted in a church that describes itself as “progressive” does that help explain why Rick Trotter was able to do alleged sexual crimes of voyeurism  in the restroom  of Downtown Church for three years? Is the corrupt DNA from Memphis Second Presbyterian Church transplanted to Richard Rieves Downtown Church. 

“The church’s culture is vibrant and progressive, with a high priority placed on growing and maturing in our faith and in becoming more focused on serving the needs in the community and world around us. “

How Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis describes itself.

“Maybe you and I both need to take a look at our life and our doctrine ands ask God ot take it over again and rule over us.”

Sandy Willson

Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10 NKJV


Commercial Appeal - Unchurched 2012-02-16


This post is dedicated to Dr. Nan Hawkes and the spiritual abuse and trauma that Dr. Sandy Willson put her through in church discipline. This blog stands with her, believes her and believes that Sandy Willson needs to own his error and repent for what he did.

Due to Jonathan Leeman of 9 Marks fame being on the recommended reading list, combined with how Sandy Willson operates I dedicate this South Park video to both.

In the growing scandal of Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis, Rick Trotter and Richard Rieves Downtown Church its beocming clear how the corruption between differing churches spreads and affects others. Last week I published alleged correspondence that revealed that Dr. Sandy Willson was explicitly warned that a sexual predator was on staff at Richard Rieves Downtown Church.  That warning came in November 2011 and it was during the final stages of this church practicing church discipline on a Neuropsychologist who said the Senior Minister of Memphis Second Presbyterian is a narcissist. Its my belief that Sandy Willson was negligent for what Rick Trotter did at Downtown Church and that he could have prevented it. I do have an email into Ken Van Kampen of the Central South of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church asking for a statement, and its my intention to pursue this in the denomination. But lets look at a number of issues that will help us understand this church and denomination better. 


What is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grew out of a number of prayer meetings in 1980 and 1981. There was a deep concern out of the growth of liberalism in the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which is a predecessor of the Presbyterian Church USA. Two key cases served in leading to the divorce. Those two cases are the Kenyon Case of 1975 and the Kaseman Case of 1981. Winn Kenyon was a seminary graduate who said that in good conscious he could not participate in the ordination of a woman. He did say that he would willingly serve in a pastorate with ordained women on the staff. Though he was ordained by the Pittsburgh Presbytery in 1975 the Permanent Judicial Commission of the UPCUSA General Assembly overturned Kenyon’s ordination. The reason given is because accepting a women’s ordination was “an explicit constitutional provision.” The other case involved Mansfield Kaseman who was received by a Maryland presbytery, a United Church of Christ minister who denied the divinity of Jesus into their membership. That actually happened in Rockville in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. If you would like to read more about it you can do so here. The first general meeting of this new church took place outside Detroit, Michigan in late 1981 at Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church. There they drafted a set of beliefs and kept it short to preserve the unity of the church. They wanted to focus on the essentials in theology, church government and evangelism. There are a number of essential beliefs that are the bedrock of this denomination. You can read the essentials of the faith here. In addition the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has a number of distinctives  on issues such a ordination of women and the mission of the church. You can read all those distinctives here.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church remains headquartered out of Michigan today and is active as a missional church with both church planting in the United States and abroad. You can read the special projects that this denomination is hoping to do in 2016. Today there are over 575 churches that exist, and correct me if I am wrong but it appears that one of the older churches in this denomination is Central Presbyterian Church  in New York City. Its important to note that both Downtown Church and Memphis Second Presbyterian Church are a part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.


Memphis Second Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church Memphis was planted in 1828 when the city had 500 people. Reverend John H Gray of Vicksburg held evangelistic services in the city. As the city grew another Presbyterian Church was planted in 1844 to accommodate the city’s growing need.  On Saturday December 28, 1844 officers were elected for the church and the following day communion was held. This took place in a warehouse. The church grew and moved twice and built its first building on the corner of Main and Beale in 1846. They moved again in 1892 and stayed there until the 1940’s when they moved again and built a new building that was dedicated in 1949. In 1989 Memphis Second Presbyterian Church joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Today they have 3,800 members. If you would like to read a little more detail you can do so on the Memphis Second Presbyterian Church website. This church is also affiliated with The Gospel Coalition, and the Senior Pastor is Sandy Willson. I will get into Sandy in more detail but there is one topic that needs to be addressed first. It is the effort to practice church discipline on a Neuropsychologist named Dr. Nan Hawkes. Dr. Hawkes church discipline situation deserves further scrutiny and I would like to explore what happened.


Dr. Nan Hawkes Excommunication

I have read and researched the excommunication of Dr. Nan Hawkes and this is my attempt to piece the narrative together. I invite those who know more to please comment below or correct me if I make an error. Dr. Nan Hawkes is a Neuropsychologist who has a practice in Germantown, Tennessee.  Neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between behavior, emotion, and cognition on one hand, and brain function on the other. To learn more you can read more about this field in the American Neuropsychiatric Association here. Dr. Nan Hawkes said that someone on church staff asked her how to deal with Dr. Sandy Willson and in response Dr. Hawkes said that Willson is a narcissist. Due to Dr. Hawkes psychological and medical training she probably could spot Narcisstic Personality Disorder. Somehow word got back to Dr. Willson that he was called a narcissist and he reacted like any narcissist does, he reacted in rage. His behavior basically confirmed Dr. Hawkes diagnoses of the Senior Minister of Memphis Second Presbyterian.  Another issue is that Dr. Nan Hawkes allegedly nominated women for the board of elders. Now the Evangelical Presbyterian Church approves female elders but lets each church determine its own way. If she had a problem with the Elders then I think she should have found a new church if she was going to push this issue. However, my gut in researching this issue tells me that the issue of female elders was an excuse to go after Dr. Nan Hawkes. Dr. Hawkes was charged with “gossip”, “slander” and “bickering” against he church leadership. 

A kangaroo court which I believe was called the Second Presbyterian Church Judicial Commission was put together and led by Chris Craft.  Chris Craft is a Criminal Court Judge in the Tennessee court system who was either elected or appointed in 1994. You can listen to Chris right here. If Chris Craft acts in such a way and helps lead legal commissions which act more with a mob mentality my question to Chris Craft is this…does this help explain why Tennessee frequently appears in studies for its rampant corruption? Sandy Willson also went after Dr. Nan Hakwes friends and those who stood up with her. For example Jan Wardle another members of Memphis Second Presbyterian who was in the choir wrote a letter of support of Dr. Hawkes to church leaders. That act got her banned from the choir, in the course of time she decided to leave Memphis Second Presbyterian as well. It was revealed on February 16, 2012 that Dr. Hawkes faced excommunication from the church. On February 18, 2012 Memphis Second Presbyterian hand delivered a letter to her house stating the following. “It is with sadness that the Session of Second Presbyterian Church directs you, effective today, no longer to appear on the campus of Second Presbyterian Church except to appear at the request of the Session’s judicial commission trying your case, until all matters before that commission are concluded. ”  Facing excommunication and having been banned from the church Dr. Nan Hawkes who was a member of Memphis Second Presbyterian for 35 years resigned. I do not know if in leaving Memphis Second Presbyterian if she also has been shunned. Sandy Willson’s church also wanted Dr. Hawkes to sign a legal document that stated that she would not sue. Correct me if I am wrong but when did Jesus ever teach that? Its certainly not in the Sermon of the Mount. The alleged legal document that Sandy Willson’s church wanted her to sign leaves many questions that I have about this whole process. This entire episode made the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.  In my post last week I revealed that Memphis was in the end stages of a church year process of practicing church discipline on Dr. Hawkes, when Sandy Willson was notified that an alleged sexual predator was on staff of Downtown Church. Sandy was more concerned with driving a woman from the church than in protecting women from an alleged sexual predator at the main church plant that Memphis Second Presbyterian sponsored. Here’s my question..when is Sandy Willson going to face church discipline for neglect and allegedly helping to enable a sexual predator? But this begs the following question…who is Sandy Willson?


Who is Sandy Willson?

Sandy Willson at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, as part of the sermon he talks about wolves.

Sandy Willson is the Senior Pastor or technically minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. Sandy graduated from the University of Virginia in 1973 and received a B.S. He obtained a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and a Doctor of Divinity from Crichton College in Memphis in 2001.  Crichton which became Victory University closed in 2014.  He has pastored at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee from 1981 to 1986 and Lookout Mountain Presybeterian Church in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee from 1986 to 1995. Sandy Willson became the Senior Minister of Memphis Second Presbyterian Church in 1995.

Sandy Willson is on the Council of The Gospel Coalition and he has authored this article on issues of plagiarism as well as this interview on Biblical grounds for divorce.  He has spoken at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, plus he was the plenary speaker at Union University’s Biblical Conference in March of 2015. You can read about Sandy Willson’s response to when the Evangelical Presbyterian Church opened the way for female pastors in this post.  In Memphis, Sandy is the co-founder of Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies. He also is the cofounder of the Memphis Shalom Project and  the founder of the Reformed Missions Network. Plus he also serves on the Board of Reference for Union University and Reformed Theological Seminary. He also sits on the Board of Directors of World Relief since 2013.  I checked to see if he has published any books and the only thing I found in Amazon is this Gospel Coalition pamphlet called “Christ’s Redemption.”  Here is his page at Crossway. Finally in closing this out Sandy is married to his wife Allison in 1972 and they have five children. Sandy Willson is also known for being heavy handed as well in researching him. Plus I have also read that Memphis Second Presbyterian has become more of a cult of personality in regards to Sandy Willson. Also Sandy Willson is a narcissist I would say, I trust a trained neuro-psychologist who is in the know about issues such and medically trained in that area.   


Carolyn, C.J. Mahaney and Steve Estes? Really?

The recommended reading list reveals the Memphis Second Presbyterian is a church that is quite toxic. I am going to focus on three people that I see being promoted but in reality there is more, quite a bit more. For example I see John Piper being promoted heavily. If you want to read more about John Piper can I recommend “My Mother’s Pancreatic Cancer, John Piper and Me?” Then there is John Piper saying that Adam Lanza’s massacre in Newtown as being ordained by God, which you can read in this following post. “How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Makes the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut.” In regards to Mark Dever this following post is one of my most read articles here at this blog. “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” In regards to Wayne Grudem can I recommend, “Wayne Grudem’s Un-Orthodox View of the Trinity and the Question that Must Be Asked: Can the ESV Bible be Trusted?” When it comes to Jonathan Leeman again may I promote the following read? “SEBTS Church Discipline Conference, 9 Marks, Jonathan Leeman and Eric Cartman say “Respect my Authoritah!” Then there is Justin Taylor and this open letter to him that I composed. Justin said that bloggers never ask for forgiveness. In my case when I exited a faith crisis I approached 140 people. Dee Parsons at The Wartburg Watch asked to tell my story because I did something that C.J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll never did. Then there is Steve Estes and C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney which deserve special attention.

Who is Steve Estes? Steve Estes is a professor of practical theology at Westminster Theology Seminary. Plus he is the Senior Pastor At Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. Joni Erickson Tada sits in a wheel chair and talks about how everyone needs a Steve Estes in their life. Sounds good doesn’t it? There is a lot more as this blog broke and has been telling a deeply disturbing story. In a condensed version what happened is the following. Steve Estes son, Brock Estes allegedly raped his wife in his bedroom while intoxicated. On another occasion Brock’s wife woke up to the sound of a gun being allegedly being loaded and pointed at her. Brock’s former wife who is called Hurit knows she could be dead. She eventually filed for divorce because of the alleged domestic abuse and Steve Estes led his church through excommunication of his former daughter-in-law. It tore apart the church, still is affecting it and I have been writing about it. This blog writes extensively about the Evangelical Free Church of America and this is one of the stories that I am still pursuing. For more can I recommend, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity“,”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” and “An Open Letter to Steve Estes (Senior Pastor Community Evangelical Free Church; Elverson, Pennsylvania)” So why is Steve Estes being promoted? Is it “Gospel Centered” to practice church discipline on an alleged rape victim that could have been killed? In light of what Sandy Willson did to Dr. Nan Hawkes is Sandy inspired by Steve Estes?

Then there are the Mahaney’s of Sovereign Grace fame. C.J. Mahanay wrote a book called “Humility” all while he allegedly practiced “Gospel Centered” blackmail against his ministry partner Larry Tomczak. You can read the transcript of that blackmail in this following post, “Has God Foreordained an Alleged Child Sex Abuse Cover up in Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches? Is that why CJ Mahaney is so Sacred?”  C.J. Mahaney was allegedly involved in the cover up of child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries, and that was highlighted in this Washingtonian article that was recently published. I cannot tell you how much this article means to many of the families whose lives were adversely affected by this deviant “ministry.” C.J. who was all about being a jock and being a “man” boasted of demanding sex from his pregnant wife Carolyn while she was experiencing morning sickness. I personally believe that C.J. Mahaney is mentally unstable, and a narcissist so Sandy Willson would find himself in extremely good company.  What was also disturbing about C.J. Mahaney is that he cruelly used church discipline to get people to tow the line and told people to “give until it hurts.” Here in the third world county of the United States people gave so much that they had forsaken meat and were eating oatmeal for dinner. While that was going on C.J. Mahaney allegedly used the money to purchase allegiances of individuals like Al Mohler, Wayne Grudem and more. I would recommend you read this article called, “ When it Comes to C. J. Mahaney; What the Evangelical Christian Church can Learn from Deep Throat and Watergate.”

Then there is Carolyn who is complicit in Sovereign Grace. One of the best articles I read about her is called, “How Carolyn Mahaney Helped Her Daughters Work Through Their Sin. Its about how Carolyn helped her daughters process sin. I guess Jesus’s death at Calvary was not good enough so Carolyn has to daily intervene to help. But then there is also this series of disturbing articles at Carolyn Mahaney’s blog Girl Talk a while back. Carolyn wrties about how she was betrayed by her friends and how she deals with it. So what happened? Glad you asked! When it came forward that C.J. Mahaney allegedly practiced criminal activity he fled Covenant Life and hid behind Mark Devers’ rear end at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Then he fled again to Louisville. In the process they abandoned a church, relationships , families and more. So Carolyn in these articles here, here, and here bemoans the fact that they were “betrayed.” Its one of the most pathetic things I have read, your husband is going to allegedly engage in criminal activity and create his own problems and you are going to moan about the people who “betrayed” you. That is like Ted Bundy moaning about being “persecuted” by law enforcement for being arrested for his criminal activity. Quite simply the Mahaney’s are frauds, and Sandy Willson should know better than to promote their material. But when books like that are foundational that speaks volumes about how unhealthy this church really is.


Is an Unhealthy Culture Transplanted at Richard Rieves Church? Plus Some Analysis


Screen shot of Richard Rieves promoting Sandy Willson on his Facebook page.

I was honestly struck when I was reading the history page for Sandy Willson’s church and it described itself as “progressive.” Now there are two tactics I have observed in fundagelicalism which many people need to remember. Many evangelical pastors like to do one of two things to shut people down. That is to claim someone is “gossiping” and to call someone emergent. Let me explain both in further detail. Bryan Loritts tried to say I was “gossiping” when I emailed him about the corruption and child sex abuse and more hemorrhaging out of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  I have also observed pastors, both in the mega church world and more use the claim “emergent” to silence a person. You may not be emergent and have an orthodox view on things but if you challenge someone they do this as  a tactic to control another person. In my research I have read of that happening to Dr. Nan Hawkes. While I have not seen Sandy Willson pull the “you’re emergent card” I would not be surprised if he ash done that.

Sandy Willson’s church has a number of issues that are deeply disturbing from the excommunication to Dr. Nan Hawkes to even the recommended reading list which I ran through above.  Culture is both helpful and harmful depending on the situation. Culture can help build up, re-enforce and communicate norms and expectations. You can find culture in companies, government, military, schools and universities and more. I think people don’t realize how diverse the culture can be in the United States. I think of how different it can be from Milwaukee to Chicago which is 90 miles away from each other. Its the culture issue that makes me doubtful on churches that break away from organizations like Sovereign Grace or more, that leaves me deeply pessimistic on their health. Since Memphis Second Presbyterian helped plant Downtown Presbyterian Church, (now Downtown Church) it begs the question, were the problems at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis duplicated into the DNA of Downtown Church? Is that part of what happened? Is that why Rick Trotter was allowed to do what he did?  If you can comment or speak to any of this please comment below. In order to thrive and do well at Memphis Second Presbyterian one has to greedily reach for more Kool Aid. They red flags about this place abound readily and frequently and kept coming. The other thing that is equally sad is that Memphis Second Presbyterian is supposed to serve the community of Memphis and instead I would say that Sandy Willson spectacularly failed. When your problems make it onto the front page of the local newspaper that is quite alarming. When your negligence leads to a lot of people being hurt at your primary church plant that is disturbing. The sad part is that none of this has to be, but that is what is going to happen when you have a narcissist at the helm. That’s it guys, please know that I love you!


6 thoughts on “An Overview of Sandy Willson and Memphis Second Presbyterian Church; Plus When Individuals Like C.J., Carolyn Mahaney and Steve Estes are Promoted, Does that Help Transplant an Unhealthy Culture at Richard Rieves’ Church?

  1. By the way that video of Sandy Willson speaking is at First Presbyterian in Augusta, Georgia. I used it because I listened to it and you can see how people and pastors know each other and how those relationships protect those who practice spiritual abuse. After all being a pastor in many of these situations is akin to being in a club.


  2. It is one of those labels that wears out after a while. They can only be emergent for only so long before they become emerged, then they are just another solidified institution. I’m fairly certain it has already happened.


  3. I am from the Memphis area and Sandy Willson should be tending to the issues in his own family and not preaching anything from the pulpit. He should have stepped down to get his own affairs in order years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.