The Wondering Eagle visited The Well Community Church in north Fresno on January 6, 2018. Mike Slayden gave the sermon which was pre-recorded and shown on a screen. This post reviews some of what Mike taught. While The Well pastor preached on Matthew 5:23-24 this blog has come to the conclusion due to personal experience that evangelical Christians don’t believe in repentance and reconciliation. Plus what do you do when a church like The Bridge Fresno make errors and refuses to atone for its mistakes? Finally as Mike Slayden quoted from Ravi Zecharias, is The Well pastor aware of the sexting charges and academic fraud allegations that came out about Ravi Zacharias?
“Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace it shouldn’t be peace at any cost but peace based on principle, on justice.”
“If there is to be reconciliation, first there must be truth.”
Timothy B Tyson
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24 NIV
Entrance to Yosemite National Park
Brad Bell and The Well Community Church
On Sunday night January 6, 2018 I attended The Well’s 7:00 p.m. service in north Fresno. This blog has heard quite a bit about this church and while in town from Washington, D.C. decided to visit and observe. The sermon has been posted and can be accessed here.
An Overview of The Well and Mike Slayden
It appears from my research that The Well grew out of a Bible study from some students at Fresno State University years ago. The church was started by Brad Bell who was an athlete at Fresno State. Brad graduated from Fresno State in May of 1995 and went to Texas where he attended Dallas Theological Seminary and graduated in 1999. Brad then moved back to Fresno where he planted The Well Community Church in 2002. In time Brad published, “Walking With a Limp.” The Well from 2002 over the course of time grew to several campuses in the Fresno and Clovis area of Central California. The main location is at five acre campus on Maple and Nees in North Fresno. The Well has spent ten years at the North Fresno location where they moved to in 2008. The next plan is to go to the Smittcamp home and Wawona property in Clovis which you can read about here.
Mike Slayden is originally from Plano, Texas. He studied at the University of North Texas and then went on to Dallas Theological Seminary. He eventually moved out to California. If my research is correct he worked at The Well at Fig Garden until he moved over to the north Fresno location. Mike is passionate about fighting childhood obesity. He is the executive director for a program called Off the Front that gets bikes to young people and helps them make better lifestyle choices. You can read more about it here and here. Mike is a dedicated cyclist. In addition to all that you can read about the perspective of Shea Sumlin, who also at one time was on staff at The Well Community Church. Shea Shumlin is a campus pastor at Matt Chandler’s The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. This blog wrote about the Karen Hinkley situation back in 2015. What had happened is that Matt Chandler’s church had attempted to practice church discipline on a female who annulled her marriage to a man addicted to child pornography and sexually attracted to children. You can read about that in, ‘“The Explicit Gospel” at Matt Chandler’s “The Village” Includes Child Pornography, Church Discipline and Membership Covenants‘ and “Has Matt Chandler’s The Village Church Recovered from the Karen Hinkley/Jordan Root Scandal?” In addition The Wondering Eagle recently told the story of a former member of The Village Church who was sexually attracted to other men and remained celibate – yet faced church discipline. You can read about that in, “Guest Post: No Man Can Serve Two Masters – Leaving Matt Chandler’s The Village Church and Finding Hope.”
Evangelical Christians Don’t Believe in Reconciliation
I listened attentively to the video sermon by Mike Slayden. One of the issues that Mike preached about is both anger and reconciling with others. He quoted Matthew 5:22-23. While this blog appreciated Mike preaching on this post the fact of the matter is that following needs to be said. Evangelical Christians don’t believe in repentance or reconciliation. There are some beautiful examples that I have written about that detail repentance and reconciliation. You can read them in the following posts, “The Reconciliation of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas is Yet Another Example for the Evangelical Church” , “The Necessity of Finding Closure: What the Evangelical Church can Learn from a Meeting Between Brenda Tracy and Nebraska Football Coach Mike Riley” , “Forgiveness & Reconciliation: The Story of Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel in Minneapolis….” , “Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge: An Incredible Story of Grace, Forgiveness and Repentance in Florida” , “The Story of Jacob DeShazer and Mitsuo Fuchida: Forgiveness Amidst the Ashes of World War II” and “How About Them Cubbies! The Reconciliation of Steve Bartman and the Chicago Cubs, and What the Evangelical Christian Church Can Learn.” Some of these stories occur by Christians but others are not. The point is that they have mostly occurred outside the evangelical Christian church. Its been my experience that evangelicals don’t believe in repentance and forgiveness. This is a part of evangelical culture. So why is that? That gets us to the next question this blog would like to ask. What do you do when evangelicals follow people or celebrity pastors who do not practice or believe in reconciliation or forgiveness? Consider the following examples.
Many remember the sad legacy of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Seattle. If you recall Mark Driscoll believed in a Jesus that was into MMA, and hyper masculine who could beat the shit out of someone. Driscoll taught about a pussified nation and called women penis homes. A repentant woman, according to Driscoll is one who got on her knees and gave her husband a “Gospel Centered” blowjob. When Driscoll’s abuse caught up with him and before Mars Hill imploded he fled Seattle and popped up in Arizona. All this talk of being a man practicing forgiveness and reconciliation and in the end he didn’t believe it. What about C.J. Mahaney at Sovereign Grace Ministries? Mahaney was the darling of many evangelicals who was known for enforcing church discipline in his large network of churches. When it emerged that Mahaney was allegedly involved in the cover up of child sex abuse or that he practiced blackmail on his ministry partner he fled his home church and hid behind Mark Dever’s rear end at Capitol Hill Baptist. Mahaney didn’t believe in repentance or forgiveness either. As he continues to run people like Mark Dever, Al Mohler and others prop him up at events like T4G. This blog’s niche is the EFCA. Last night I wrote about a situation that sadly is playing out. At the flagship seminary of the EFCA – Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside Chicago, Illinois well known professor and founder of The Gospel Coalition D.A. Carson once defended C.J. Mahaney by attacking someone who was raped at 13. Is D.A. Carson going to admit his error? Fat chance! You can read about that in, “Is Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Ready for the #MeToo Movement? Reflecting on Professor Emeritus D.A. Carson’s Attack on an Alleged Rape Victim to Defend C.J. Mahaney.” After all what happens when people are being influenced by such people? The writer of this blog endured a false accusation from a Care Group Leader and military officer at a former Sovereign Grace now Acts 29 church in the Washington, D.C. area called Redeemer Arlington. After the false accusation where I learned why rape and sexual assault is an issue in the military the person who made my false accusation moved on without owning or repairing the damage that he did. Efforts to resolve the situation were not successful. The last I heard is that the person who made the false accusation is speaking for the Navigators. So the lesson in all this is that evangelical Christians do not believe in repentance and forgiveness. Frankly many evangelicals don’t care if they hurt a person. They leave people they have hurt broken and shattered in the battlefield of life. Then they profess their faith, the pastors they listen to, the books they consume, but those outside the faith can see through the garbage. Is it any wonder when you look at evangelical Christianity and then compare it with atheism, that the atheism is far healthy and honest? But going back to the issue of repentance and owning mistakes, what happens when churches don’t believe that? Let’s illustrate with a local example in Fresno, California.
What About When its a Church Itself? A Disturbing Situation Out of The Bridge Fresno
Josh Hawley at The Well Community was a pastor at Fresno Evangelical Free. Years ago when I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ at Fresno State I used to listen to Josh Hawley preach at Fresno Evangelical Free, which is now called The Bridge Fresno. You can read about Josh in, “A Personal Reflection on Fresno Evangelical Free Church; Known Today as The Bridge Fresno.” In order to understand what happened at The Bridge Fresno I need to write a brief consensus of a dark scandal at an Acts 29 church in Memphis, Tennessee. Inside the Acts 29 network Fellowship Memphis was founded and planned to be the multi-ethnic model of church planting. The church was planted in 2003 by John Bryson and Bryan Loritts. Now Bryan Loritts brother-in-law was Rick Trotter who was an announcer for the Memphis Grizzlies an NBA basketball team. Rick Trotter also became the worship leader at Fellowship Memphis and he was also into voyeurism. In practicing voyeurism in his home he also caught the children of Bryan Loritts. So what Rick Trotter did was place a camera in the church restroom of Fellowship Memphis and illicitly record females. He recorded about 100 females apparently before he was caught. Since two of the females were under the age of 18 child pornography was manufactured in the church. Bryan Loritts and John Bryson allegedly worked to cover up the scandal when he was caught. What Fellowship Memphis did was arrange for the women who were recorded to meet with Rick Trotter and his wife Heather and forgive him. The church made the decision not to report the sex crime to the Memphis Police. Bryan Loritts fled the scandal while Rick Trotter was quietly let go and in time he got another job at another church plant in Memphis once called Downtown Presbyterian Church run by Richard Rieves. Trotter engaged in voyeurism at Downtown Church for three years starting in 2012. In the process the conservative estimate is that Rick Trotter illicitly recorded close to 700 to 800 people over that multiple year time period, to include the senior pastors daughter. He was finally caught making an up-skirt video at Downtown Church in the middle of praise and worship and he was reported to the police.
The story of Fellowship Memphis was broken by the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. However, much of the information was left out and one of the victims contacted me and asked me to write about and research it. I almost vomited when I read the email and in writing this story learned quite a bit about how voyeurism works. You can read the original post in, “The Sordid Tale of Rick Trotter, Bryan Loritts, John Bryson and Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Presbyterian Church.” I have kept with the scandal over the last two years. I promised several people formerly affiliated with Fellowship Memphis that I would write about the scandal long term. The goal of this blog is to see Fellowship Memphis closed. According to what I last heard the church has lost a lot of members who have walked away. Meanwhile Bryan Loritts fled the scandal first by going up to a Presbyterian Church in New York City, and then fleeing again to the San Francisco Bay area where he teaches at Abundant Life Fellowship in Silicon Valley. Bryan has been trying to restart his speaking and publishing career after the voyeurism and child pornography cover up at Fellowship Memphis. So he was brought to The Bridge Fresno to preach about racial reconciliation. You can see the marketing advertisement up above. When I realized what was about to happen I contacted The Bridge Fresno and tried to speak with them about the topic and was subsequently ignored. You can read the posts about Bryan Loritts speaking at The Bridge Fresno at, “Rick Trotter is Sentenced for Illegally Recording “UpSkirt” Videos at Richard Rieves Downtown Church and Goes on the Tennessee Sex Offender List; Plus Bryan Loritts Speaking Commitments Including my Former Church in California, The Bridge Fresno” , “An Open Letter to Steve Highfill (Can we Agree that a Pastor who Allegedly has Been Involved in a Cover-up of Deviant Sexual Scandal Should not be Speaking at The Bridge Fresno?)” and “The Memphis Commercial Appeal Asks If Memphis Police Mishandled the Rick Trotter Situation? Plus The Bridge Fresno Advertises and Prepares for Bryan Loritts to Speak on July 8, 2018” As I write about the EFCA I have asked them if they take the subject of child pornography seriously. I can’t tell The Well Community Church how upsetting is was to write about the church you were baptized in who gave a platform to a man who covered up a sex crime. And that leads me to Mike Slayden’s sermon. What do you do when a church like The Bridge Fresno has made a serious and disturbing mistake and refuses to acknowledge it and take the right course of action? What do you do when a church refuses to repent?
But before all that happened with Bryan Loritts in 2018 there was another situation that was disturbing that involved in The Bridge Fresno. When I flew to Fresno from D.C. in 2017 to help my Mom in a medical crisis I attended The Bridge Fresno and left a prayer request, my contact information and the medical crisis we were dealing with. I asked for help in 2017 and expressed worry that my Mom was going to die in St. Agnes Hospital. That did indeed happen a few days later and when I was sitting in a funeral home planning Mom’s funeral it hit me like a ton of bricks that The Bridge Fresno let the situation fall through the cracks. I wrote about that and compared how The Bridge Fresno responded verses my parents Roman Catholic church in Riverpark in, “The Bridge Fresno vs. Holy Spirit Catholic Church: Who was More Pastoral?” Now to the Well Community Church I would like to ask this question based off that experience. What good is a church that doesn’t help the ill or help bury the dead? This blog has helped a number of people walk away from The Bridge Fresno. Personally I would like to see this EFCA church closed as I honestly don’t see much of any contribution to the community.
Is Mike Slayden Aware of the Sexting and Academic Fraud Issues with Ravi Zacharias?
During the sermon Mike Slayden quoted from Ravi Zecharias. When he did that I just cringed. The pastor from The Well really needs to do due diligence when he is putting together sermons and quoting from “Christian celebrities.” Is Mike Slayden aware of the sexting allegations against Ravi Zecharias? Or the allegations of academic fraud against Zecharias? The stories and issues involving Ravi Zecharias have come about do to the due diligence by Steve Baughman who is an attorney in San Francisco. As an atheist he does respect Christian philosophers. He started to research Ravi and some of his claims about his degrees from Oxford and Cambridge and started to notice some issues. He discovered that Ravi Zecharias had exaggerated and embellished some of his academic claims. For the work some evangelicals have contacted him and communicated death threats. That is deeply sad. I would think that if evangelicals are committed to both spirit and truth that they would be concerned that a fraud is being perpetuated. You can read Steve’s page here.
Warren Throckmorton a Christian psychology professor from Grove City College in Pennsylvania has also documented and written about the issues with Ravi Zacharias. Throckmorton is best known for being the blogger that worked with former members of Mars Hill Seattle and who picked about and documented the abuse in Mark Driscoll’s church. You can read about Ravi Zecharias credentials and his claim to be a visiting scholar to Cambridge here and here. Oxford University became concerned about the scandal which you can read about here. John Stackhouse weighed in on the scandal which you can read about here. You can read about the sexting and how sadly the Christian and Missionary Alliance did not rebuke Ravi Zecharias for his behavior and discipline him.
Mike Slayden and the other pastors at The Well need to practice due diligence before using material by people like Ravi Zacharias. That is just tragic and creates issues. If people continue to use questionable sources then honestly think that validates what Mark Noll wrote about the scandal of the evangelical mind. Mike Slayden and Brad Banks should know what the scandal of the evangelical mind is. If they need a refresher I wrote about it a while back which you can read in the following post. “From Mormonism in Montana to Sovereign Grace in the Washington, D.C. Area; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Comes Full Circle.” To the Well Community Church that is the review of Mike Slayden’s talk. I plan on writing about you guys again in the near future.