This is a letter of divorce to my former third wave evangelical church outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Known as Wooded Hills this is a church that is deeply charismatic, highly political, and very much toxic. In 2016 a number of people attacked me on social media and I realized that this is not the place that I thought it to be. This is a cult and a place to be avoided. This open letter explains a number of problems with Wooded Hills.
“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.”
“Poisonous relationships can alter our perception. You can spend many years thinking you’re worthless. But you’re not worthless. You’re underappreciated.”
If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing. If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.
Matthew 10:13-15 NIV
The Jenkins family from Wooded Hills Bible (Now Wooded Hills Church)
***Wooded Hills Church is a third wave, highly charismatic church outside Germantown, Wisconsin near Milwaukee. When I lived in SE Wisconsin it was home. It was a church under the influence of Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer. It tried to raise a person from the dead once, looked at everything through the lens of spiritual warfare which was deeply toxic. This is a church that once sent out its high school youth group to a convenience store to fight a demon that supposedly existed. It was very unstable and this church was highly political. For the longest time I have been meaning to serve my divorce papers to Wooded Hills Church. This post is a personal one for me and captures some of the issues that took place there and share some painful thoughts that I need to get off my chest. This is a farewell letter to a church that is largely cult like or cultic today.***
Dear Wooded Hills-
Hello, remember me? I sure remember you and as I think about Wooded Hills my stomach cringes in anxiety. Though I left when I moved away, today I am serving my divorce papers to you. Today I am explaining the issues that occurred in Wooded Hills. In the process I will also look at the problems that exist at Wooded Hills. When I was there I loved it, but as time went on I really began to see how toxic it was. Today I am deeply embarrassed to have considered Wooded Hills to have been my home when I lived in Milwaukee. Today I am publicly filing for divorce and sharing the reasons why I have taken this action. Joe Jenkins was the pastor for a long time, and today the pastor is Theo Williams. Lets get started on a number of painful memories and situations that are embarrassing.
Joe Jenkins do you remember the time that you preached that the gathering of troops in Kuwait during the United States led Iraqi Freedom, could be an indicator of the End Times and how we should be prepared? Now that its 2019 how did that sermon work out? Did Iraqi Freedom lead to the End Times?
Ruth, do you remember the time you stood in the hallway and told me that an evangelical Christian could only be a Republican?
Joe, do you remember that entire situation with Rich Ranicke? And how he was added to the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry for sexual assault of a child? It was a 16 year old if I remember correctly. Do you recall how you laughed about how Rich was sentenced by a judge to Wooded Hills? Do you remember the challenges of having a sex offender in a church who from time to time wanted to work with children despite his record? I started Marquette grad school in 2000 and everything had happened and he was processed by the legal system, when I showed up on the scene. Do you also recall the sex abuse situation with Daniel Varga at Elmbrook and how a number of people left that mega church and some parents of sexually abused children ended up at Wooded Hills? I wrote about the situation at Elmbrook in, “How I Learned Evangelical Christianity is Struggling with Child Sex Abuse: An Incident at Milwaukee’s Elmbrook Church in 1999.” So after dealing with that situation I wonder how many people knew that there was an issue with a sex offender at Wooded Hills as well. Were they adequately warned and told? Wooded Hills was one of the many evangelical Christian churches that taught me that evangelicalism struggles with child sex abuse and how to handle sex offenders. The Roman Catholic church is not the only organization dealing with sexual abuse. Evangelical Christianity is dripping with stories of sexual abuse and more. My blog writes about them regularly.
Trish Stern, do you remember how you pushed The Elijah List and Rick Joyner’s Morningstar Ministries? Talk about applying toxic prophecy to Middle East events and the culture wars in the United States. Where is the barf bag?
Again Trish do you remember when you sent the high school youth group to fight a demon in a convenience star nearby to Wooded Hills? It was a part of engaging in spiritual warfare as there was a “demon” in an aisle in a convenience store? That is one of the most jacked up things I heard in 20 years and its led me to wonder about your stability.
Once more Trish, do you recall how you and some of the other people believed that demons were on the property and all around? How life was nothing but a constant situation of spiritual warfare? How toxic is that? That leaves people to conclude that there is a demon under the couch or bed? Another demon hiding in the closet. Heck someone could have the flu, or an upset stomach and fart, and that could be spiritual oppression. Do you recall how out of balance things became at Wooded Hills?
Joe, Trish and others, do you recall the less than Christian discussions about other churches in the nearby area and how they didn’t do church correctly or lacked faith? Do you recall the condescending attitude to other churches nearby? I do, and I cringe when I think of some of what was said.
Trish and Joe do you recall how Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer in Kansas City was pushed at Wooded Hills at Colgate? Do you recall helping to create an environment that allowed people like Craig Dunker and another (whose memory is escaping me…) to go down to Kansas City and become involved? This was an organization that was a cult, and later Kansas City International House of Prayer dealt with issues of murder. Can I ask both of you, what type of pastor, shepherd or leader creates an environment that exposes people to harm? And encourages them forward? I wrote about the issues with the Kansas City International House of Prayer in, “How Healthy was Wooded Hills Church? A Personal Reflection on the Issues which Existed; Plus Concerns about the Influence of Mike Bickle’s Kansas City International House of Prayer.”
Brian Habeth, Joe, and others, do you recall as to how much Wooded Hills struggled with nepotism? How one or two families had control over the Elder Board and how an event in a family could become a church business meeting discussing something without people knowing? Do you recall how toxic and unhealthy and how it lead to some aspects of the church being out of balance? Wooded Hills you taught me that nepotism is a major struggle in evangelicalism.
Joe do you recall how parts of your family acted toward me around the 2016 election. This also applies to Bob Hennes as well. But Joe do you recall how your son Josiah Jenkins (the second one to the left in the picture up above) screamed at me to fuck off on Facebook? And all because I was a traditional Republican who divorces faith from politics and was horrified by who evangelicals embraced. I was taken back and I thought long and hard after being screamed to fuck off. In nearly 20 years of ministry through different organizations and churches in California, Wisconsin and the D.C. area that remains the only situation I can think of where someone from a pastor’s family acted in such a way. So after being told to fuck off you very much molded more of my thinking about Wooded Hills. All of you did. I have been wanting to get this letter done for sometime. But from Josiah’s, Trish and so many more I came to realize what faith is to you. You see Jesus didn’t come to save the lost. He was wrong when he said the last shall be first and the first shall be last. He didn’t come to be the sacrifice for all mankind. What Jesus did was even more masterful! His sacrifice at Calvary was even bigger then planned and more unique. You see Jesus suffered and died at Calvary so that a conservative judge can get on the Supreme Court and that it can be tipped in a political direction. Its incredible, because your faith is not about preaching the Gospel and loving the broken. Its really a political party at the end of the day. No wonder Ruth told me some of the comments she did when we talked occasionally at Wooded Hills. That Christian nationalist theology also falls in line with the behavior of Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell Jr. Oh that reminds me, I need to convoy the following to Jared and Shelly or Josh and Cristy Jenkins. This also applies to Josiah as well. Perhaps you heard the other day that Jerry Falwell Jr made some “racey pictures/pornography” with his wife. Perhaps you also heard that he used an intermediary to get the pictures back. This is nothing but pure evangelical Christian family values from Liberty University in Lynchburg. You can read more in the following articles here, here, here and here. But if any of the Jenkins family wants to make porn while extolling your faith you’ll be duplicating the likes of individuals such as Jerry Falwell Jr.
I once thought fondly of Wooded Hills. Today I largely consider it a cult. Sometimes people become too embarrassed to face their background or past. I cannot believe that I became involved in a place that was so warped and misguided. As more time passes the more I realize how off it was. At one point I regarded many people as friends, and today I realize what a fool I was for doing so. Likewise to have spent the time that I did at Wooded Hills when I was at Marquette was indeed time wasted. Being screamed at by Josiah was a nice touch. As I said above that was really the first time I encountered such behavior from a pastor’s family. I could easily meet with them, after all I occasionally drive through Fredericksburg here in Virginia, but honestly I have no desire. Wooded Hills was a cult. In 2015 I composed, “Tribute to a Pastor I Loved: Joe Jenkins from Wooded Hills Church.” When I consider the culture at Wooded Hills and even the behavior from the Jenkins family afterward in 2016 I feel sick to my stomach. I was a fool for looking up and admiring Wooded Hills once. That mistake won’t happen again, and I have no desire to meet with anyone. The behavior by many from Wooded Hills taught me that you are a sick place. In many ways Wooded Hills makes atheism to be healthy and more robust. Especially when I consider the charismatic teachings and evangelical culture wars combined.
Some will regard this post as being a spiritual attack. After all when you live in a bubble and that is the world you know, one can’t think any differently. That is not my fault, rather that is the small minded way some people choose to live. Instead of facing issues in the world its toxic to fall back and withdraw into your own bubble. That is what Wooded Hills is all about. So in knowing the culture and what some people will say I wanted to address that point ahead of time.
Lets be honest, those inside the machine at Wooded Hills I would largely consider lost. They are drinking the Kool Aid and ingesting it in different ways. In writing about the issues and problems inside evangelicalism I have long learned that the people inside often stay blindly committed to a church when they learn that the youth pastor is molesting the child. They stay committed and continue to give money when its being embezzled. They stay committed when abuse is covered up. I write about such stories all around the United States frequently. However when I write about such posts I often do to keep people away. So while people drink the Kool Aid at Wooded Hills, when people move to Richfield, Hubertus, Germantown or Menomnee Falls and they Google a place they can go to church they will find the posts about Wooded Hills. So for the culture and the toxicity what helps is when someone emails me and says, “I was thinking of visiting Wooded Hills but I read your posts about the extreme charismatic issues and the high school youth group and we decided to stay away. Thanks for warning me.” That gives me peace and closure in a way that Wooded Hills nor the Jenkins family ever has. And that will be my focus to spare other people the toxic culture that is Wooded Hills.