Jason Webb resigns as the Senior Pastor of Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This post at The Wondering Eagle advises Elmbrook how to proceed forward. I draw from my experience in writing about the dark side of evangelicalism to offer advice and help Elmbrook move ahead.
“Recovery begins from the darkest moment.”
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
Isiah 40:20-21 NIV
My Marquette roots still remain strong.
Something happened in Elmbrook Church the other day and this blog started to receive a lot of hits. In the following post you have the resignation email by Jason Webb. “Preserving Jason Webb’s and Gary Gregg’s Email to the Elmbrook Congregation Announcing Jason’s Resignation as Senior Pastor.” One of the first posts I wrote about Elmbrook at The Wondering Eagle was the Daniel Varga situation in 1999 which helped teach me why evangelical Christianity is struggling with child sex abuse. As the youth pastor Daniel Vargas sexually abused 10 teenagers I believe before the police were notified. You can read that post in, “How I Learned Evangelical Christianity is Struggling with Child Sex Abuse: An Incident at Milwaukee’s Elmbrook Church in 1999.”
This post today is a quick write up based upon what I have heard. In writing this blog my sources are often pastors, church planters, people on the elder board, atheists, secular humanists, members of a church and yes sometimes even alleged crime victims. This blog has written about a number of dark topics in evangelical Christianity. Let me use a couple of stories to illustrate that fact. For example there was the story I helped pull out that discussed a worship pastor in an Acts 29 church in Memphis, Tennessee who was into voyeurism and who allegedly manufactured child pornography in a church. The church allegedly covered it up and quietly let him go where he engaged in the same behavior in another church. You can read about Fellowship Memphis in, “The Sordid Tale of Rick Trotter, Bryan Loritts, John Bryson and Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Presbyterian Church.” This blog also writes about the EFCA and I broke a dark story in Pennsylvania about an hour outside Philadelphia. It dealt with the pastor who witnessed and evangelized Joni Erickson Tada, that of Steve Estes. What had happened is that the senior pastor’s son had allegedly raped his wife and pointed a loaded gun at her. The domestic abuse could have left her dead. When she filed for divorce the EFCA church called Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson practiced church discipline on her and had her excommunicated. The issue tore the community apart and went all the way to the top of the EFCA in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can read that story in, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.” So I write all this to say that my sources are well placed and have direct access to the situation. And that applies to Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin as well. I also want to say that I understand the pain that many people are feeling right now. The pain is unique for those in Elmbrook but I understand the dark side of religion and know that it can be difficult. In this situation I want to see Elmbrook pull through and Jason Webb helped.
What Elmbrook Church Should Have Done
In these situations that are dark churches need to be cognizant of the internet age. I don’t see any signs of a cover-up at Elmbrook. What I do see though is a church that may not realize how difficult social media and the press can be. Before that email was sent out to the congregation by Gary Greg what should have happened is the following. Elmbrook should have contacted the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Gary Greg, Jason Webb and a few other people should have been there. Jason should have explained to the newspaper that he was resigning for adultery and other reasons. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel should have been allowed to ask questions and fully engage. By taking the initiative that would help Elmbrook in the long haul. Now what happened instead is it is shown that the church doesn’t understand the current internet culture or instant press. Its not malevolent, I think it was done out of human error. But in these situations any church dealing with a difficult situation needs to get everything out on the table immediately and promptly. Initiative is the key to navigating through a painful situation like this.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is Incorrect in One Area
There is some information that the Milwaukee Journal-Senintal published earlier tonight that was factually incorrect. I don’t think it was done in an intentional manner but out of error. The Milwaukee newspaper appeared to have corrected it, but in this writer’s opinion they need to issue a correction statement and go on the record that they were wrong. What happened is that Darryl Enriquez wrote that Jason Webb dealt with a substance abuse addiction. According to my source from Elmbrook that is factually incorrect. Due to the how the url is coded you can still see this reference for substance abuse here.
What Elmbrook Church Should Do Long Term
Elmbrook needs to get everything out on the table right away. For the health of the church and the people involved everything should be disclosed immediately. Do not do what Bill Hybell’s Willow Creek has done and say the situation is being dealt with and then a month later have something be published in the Chicago Tribune or another newspaper that reveals otherwise. Think long term and treat this situation from that perspective. If Elmbrook is open and transparent about this it will pull through and be stronger in the end. Act like a church and not as a corporation or a business. Realize that people have highly charged emotions and people are processing the news right now. Many people from Elmbrook are going to go through the stages of grief. For some people this will perhaps be the first time they will experience the feeling of let down by a church. How Elmbrook responds will indicate how it should proceed and move ahead. But don’t act like everything is going to be resolved and cleaned up by next Monday. Some of the people I know from Sovereign Grace, Willow Creek, Mars Hill Seattle and more are still dealing with the pain of the situation years later. That is another factor I want to get into below.
Evangelical Christians Don’t Believe in Repentance Today, How Elmbrook Can Help the Greater Christian Faith
There are five articles I want people from Elmbrook to read. I think the church will find them helpful.
- “How Mistakes are Opportunities…Why Don’t Evangelical Christians Say they are Sorry? Why Don’t Evangelicals Repent and Own their Mistakes Today?“
- “Do Evangelical Christians Have a Flawed Understanding of What Peace Is?“
- “My Contention that the Single Greatest Threat to the Gospel is Not a Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage; Instead Its Internal Corruption.”
- “A Primer on Repentance: What are Indicators that Repentance Has Occurred?“
- “The Reconciliation of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas is Yet Another Example for the Evangelical Church.“
In that last post about the reconciliation of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas make sure you read about the other articles embedded about repentance and reconciliation. Read about the relationship between Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mary forgave and then became friends with her son’s murderer after he repented. Consider what happened between Eric Smallridge and Renee Napier in Florida. Eric Smallridge killed Renee’s daughter in a drunk driving accident. He repented and they became close in time. Then you have the story of Jacob DeShazer and Mitsuo Fuchida who were once enemies in World War II. Then there is the story of Brenda Tracy and the head coach of the University of Nebraska football program. A rape victim later met the football coach and they talked over the situation of a rape by his football players in Oregon and a lot of healing took place.
I have one contention about evangelical Christianity and its this claim. The reason why much of evangelicalism is sick and cancerous is because Christians do not repent. They do not own their mistakes. This blog was born out of an act of psychological pain and abuse. This writer years ago learned why rape and sexual assault is a problem in the military. It happened through a serious false accusation from a military officer. This blog preceded the #MeToo movement but I have spent time addressing the dark issues of evangelical Christianity. There is one thing I see over and over and keep writing about and its this aspect. Evangelical Christians do not repent. Look at the evidence…you had the leader of Sovereign Grace Minorities who practiced blackmail and was allegedly involved in the cover-up of child sex abuse. Yet when it came out C.J. Mahaney fled his home church and ended up at Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church, before eventually running again to Louisville, Kentucky. Then you had the issue of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Seattle. You had a pastor who engaged in plagiarism, verbal and emotional abuse and even taught that women are penis homes. When this came out he resigned and fled Seattle, Washington, to go to Scottsdale, Arizona. The most recent is Bill Hybels from Willow Creek in the Chicago area. The front page of the New York Times wrote about how the man who wrote so much about character while he then pressured his secretary to perform oral sex on him. When Bill resigned from Willow Creek I believe he left Illinois for Michigan where he is today. Then I had a run in with a care group leader in a Sovereign Grace church here in the Washington, D.C. area who triggered a false accusation that was spiritually and psychologically abusive. He fled to Colorado Springs where he is today. In all of these situations the person who committed the wrong and who hurt other people fled and left damage, pain, and people in their wake psychologically stuck.
Jason Webb needs to repent for the health of Elmbrook. To this day in 2018 I still learn that some of the victims from Daniel Varga have discussed the pain of their abuse on Reddit and other bulletin boards I believe. By Jason repenting in 2018 and 2019 that will keep people from being stuck and hurt in 2028 and later. Here is what should happen. Hold a question and answer service and let Jason Webb answer questions. Let it be unscripted. No controlled questions. No pre-approved questions. Let it be raw. If a member from Elmbrook needs to stand before a microphone and cry then that needs to happen. If a member from Elmbrook needs to yell because they are upset. Then let that happen. Also repentance is not just saying “I am sorry…” but its about helping those who are hurt get back on their feet. Its not just about words but actions. In addition to that let Jason Webb go around the small groups for Elmbrook and repent to each one. Let him interact with people. Jason needs to understand and hear from people how his adultery and more hurt people. By doing this Elmbrook will also help Jason in the long term perspective. This will take time but it will help in the long course of time. I wanted an Air Force Captain to contact me and say, “Dave I am sorry for what I did” and then work with me to resolve the pain. And that never happened and that is why I am stuck. Some of the people from Mars Hill, Willow Creek and Sovereign Grace want their former pastor or leader to come back and apologize and work everything out. That needs to happen at Elmbrook.
Why the Leadership of Elmbrook Should be Supported and Why Jason Webb’s Family Should be Embraced
The last thing I want to say is that if Elmbrook responds in a healthy and transparent manner then people should be happy to call Elmbrook home. Let me pose this question to you using a dark topic to make my point. I want to stress that I am using this to make a point. Which church would you rather be involved in? The one that had a child sex abuse incident that promptly went to the police and was open about it? Or would you rather be in the church that had a child sex abuse incident and tried to cover it up and conceal it? I would rather be in the church that did the right thing. Jason’s mistakes deal with adultery and other addictions. I am not going to speculate on what they are. But what if Jason repented and the church made him a part of the community and still walked with him? What if Jason who can’t teach or do more still had church family who loved him. Visited their house, and befriended him? What if Elmbrook helped him in the long course of time to help him get back on his feet? What if Elmbrook helped him find secular employment and worked with him and mental health services? What if by doing that Jason’s kids drew closer to their Dad and Mom. And what if the friend I have in Milwaukee who knows Jason and his wife intimately who are in deep pain tonight because of the situation salvaged a friendship and help him in the storm? And what if Milwaukee saw all that and the Journal-Sentinel wrote about that years from now? If Elmbrook does that it will be one of the only churches I know that will have done something unique and in my mind can classify itself as a church. If Jason does the right thing he could teach the church a lot by owning his mistakes. Sometimes people have to hit bottom. I write all that to plead for the following, Elmbrook don’t throw Jason away. Remove him from teaching and get him the help that he needs. As long as its not illegal or no laws were violated then work with Jason and a mental health counselor. I want to encourage people from Elmbrook to use these posts to discuss this situation. This is a quick post I wanted to get up this evening based on the flurry of activity that happened today.