At This Point the Emphasis Needs to be the Deconstruction of Evangelicalism. If You Stay an Evangelical Christian Despite the Constant Scandals and Problems I Would Honestly Question Your Faith

This is a haunting post to write but its another necessary one as I do an autopsy on my dying faith. For so many years I spent time building up churches and ministries as I was part of the evangelical machine. Today I am committed to their deconstruction Marquette University’s Cru being on the top of the list. But there is more especially in light of the constant scandals and problems at the churches and ministries I raise in this post. If you go to these churches like McLean Bible, Fairfax Community Church, or Wooded Hills Bible I would question your faith.

“Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 58:8-9 NIV

My Milwaukee Metro Campus Crusade Director Steve Papez

Its been a long strange journey. And its a lonely road that is still being taken one step at a time. I can’t believe how its fallen. And today I look back with sheer horror over what I was involved in. Did I see this coming? Did I realize how broken it was and how deep the rot and corruption is in evangelicalism? No…I was a naïve fool. I was the fat, fed, plump individual who was lazy and lacked critical thinking skills. This blogger at one point went along and never thought any more about it. And yet there were red flags along the way. 

When I was involved in Fresno Evangelical Free and Campus Crusade in Fresno State in California the Left Behind series in 1999 and 2000 were the rage. People read and treated the books like they were addition to the Bible. In my Crusade bible study we watched Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind movie. I was uncomfortable and under the surface felt something was not right with the  theology. It was the same feeling I had when I was looked into Mormonism in college and I had a feeling that something wasn’t right about the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints. Why didn’t I listen to that small voice raising concerns about evangelicalism then? 

When I arrived at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee it was in the wake of a dark and disturbing sexual abuse situation. A youth minister sexually abused at least ten high school students in his ministry.  He ran when the police were looking for him and locked himself up in a motel in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin and committed suicide. Why did I not connect the dots and see the sex abuse issue in a bigger construct? That situation at Elmbrook taught me why evangelicalism struggles with child sex abuse. I wrote about that in, “How I Learned Evangelical Christianity is Struggling with Child Sex Abuse: An Incident at Milwaukee’s Elmbrook Church in 1999.”  When I think of the issues of Campus Crusade for Christ in Milwaukee why did I not walk away then? Some of the comments that Steve Papez made when he told me that Lutheranism isn’t Christian? His comments about the culture wars? Why did I work at planting a Crusade chapter at Marquette University?  Then there was the time Erick Lettner told me that evangelicals in the United States were going to be severely persecuted and were already being persecuted. Seriously? Or how the federal government was going to plant a chip to monitor Christians in the End Times theology view. Some of the issues that popped up on retreats. The guy from Crusade I knew who touched his girl friend and called me up on the phone saying he was inappropriate and who beat himself emotionally. It was just a kiss. Why didn’t any of that register with me? What about the Minneapolis Christmas Conference and an alter call they did late one night for missionary work when students were tired, up late and hungry. Is that the time to be making major decisions when you are sleep deprived? There was the time I listened to a professor in the University of Wisconsin system on a retreat who was quitting his job to join staff with Crusade. Why not ask questions about the financial difficulties he was going to put his family into? Is it good to throw away a career or retirement benefits? And all this for a cult? A cult that worshipped Bill Bright? Why didn’t I ask the questions? 

My missionary team at McLean Bible Church in London 

And what about Wooded Hills Bible Church? Why didn’t I walk from that mess? I recall the time that Joe Jenkins invited me over to his home and over pancakes he explained how he tried to drive demons out of a person in a hospital room who had a stroke. Why didn’t I ask questions when Trish Stern told me she sent the high school youth group to a convenience store to fight a demon in the aisle? When some people shook at emotional worship conferences Wooded Hills called Winds of Worship? When theology like The Elijah List, Mike Bickle, dream interpretation and prophecy was pushed, why did I stay? Why did I go on a retreat to the Michigan Upper Peninsula that was about spiritual anointing and cleansing? Why did I make a stink about Harry Potter and so much more? I don’t have a good explanation for any of this? Is the fact that I didn’t go to Sunday school at Wooded Hills raise concerns about deep fears of what I would learn if I attended? Would I have seen the influence of someone like Ken Ham would I then know I have to leave? Why did I intentionally ignore Sunday school?

Then there was the time I came to Washington, D.C. and got involved in Fairfax Community Church. Why didn’t I see the show on the stage and even the smoke machines and find that overkill? Why didn’t I raise questions about the church leadership sooner when I noticed issues? I became a whistle blower at Fairfax Community Church over a violent sex offender that the church employed and then lied about. You can read about that in, “Why Does Fairfax Community Church have a Care Director on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Sex Offender Registry?” That was a dark mess. What about McLean Bible? Lon Solomon as a preacher could be quite arrogant, why didn’t I take that as a sign the mega church had issues? Why didn’t I notice the cliques and problems in McLean Bible and see how there were bubbles inside the bubble. Why did I go on some of the retreats and see how shallow they were and how some people showed up and acted nice to me just because they wanted me to volunteer for a ministry? Why did I do a mission trip in Southall? Why did I proselytize in Southall? What was I doing? Recruiting people into the evangelical cult? I remember a few years after that situation I was speaking to one of the people from my mission team at McLean Bible. I raised a couple of questions about Calvinism and the problem of evil. This person in response said, “Dave I don’t care to know the issues with the theology. I have my friends, and my social network and that’s what I care about.” I was left scratching my head. Now there’s nothing wrong to going to church to get friends, date or find a spouse. But what gets me is that evangelicals lie about it. And then when a doubter is present they unload and are hostile to the doubter. Really in such situations the only one honest is the doubter. Then I later learned of how McLean Bible covered up a sexual predation situation and didn’t take it to the Fairfax Police. And that happened after a theological coup that purged over 50 staff and spiritually abused and created mental health crisis for some of them.  And as I later learned in 2016 and later many of these churches I called home had deep problems with Christian nationalism. I wrote about that in, “What White Evangelicals and Christians I Once Knew Taught Me About Faith in the Trump Era.

How Did I Get Here? If You Are an Evangelical and you Go to a Church Like Wooded Hills, McLean Bible, Fairfax Community I Would Question Your Faith

How did I go from planting a Crusade chapter at Marquette University and supporting it, trying to grow it to now being horrified it exists? I thought I was building a healthy organization. Today I look at some of the Crusade leadership and feel awful. I look at the Christian nationalism of the leadership and feel sick to my stomach. That’s not what I envisioned in 2002 or beyond?

How did I go from doing ministry work in Wooded Hills, McLean Bible, and Fairfax Community Church to being troubled by their existence today?  How did I get involved in such corrupt churches? How did I go from one to the next over and over? One you can say is an aberration. Two just a freak situation. But repeatedly over and over? That shows that evangelical culture is corrupt.

Last year I wrote a post explaining why I decided to reject evangelicalism. You can read that in, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.” Since rejecting evangelicalism I remain haunted by what I once built up. The churches I gave money to. The ministries I planted and supported. The guys I discipled or the missions trip I undertook. When I see how corrupt evangelicalism is then I have to face myself and realize that I contributed to the problem from 1999 until 2017. I was a part of the evangelical machine from California to Wisconsin to the Washington, D.C. area. However this will be my response. Where I once built up and supported, my commitment will now be toward deconstructing and dismantling. It will be focused on keeping people out or getting them out of a scandal plagued belief system.

So what does that mean?

I want to see Wooded Hills Church in Colgate, Wisconsin closed.

I want to see Cru at Marquette University shut down and closed. This is important to me as I played a key role in founding it.

I want to see Fairfax Community Church closed and turned into a parking lot. Even a porn store or a bar or pool hall would offer more to the community than Rod Stafford’s church, which is really the theological equivalent of a crack house in Northern Virginia.

I want to see McLean Bible closed and shut down.

But I would also say this to the evangelicals  who are involved in those churches. If you choose to attend a church like Wooded Hills Bible Church, Fairfax Community Church, McLean Bible Church or work in a ministry like Cru (formerly Campus Crusade) then I would question your faith. If you are not moved to leave churches that have issues with corruption, spiritual abuse and manipulation and fraud not only are you a part of the problem. But I would ask why are you going and I’d even pass judgment on your faith. When a church like McLean Bible covers up a sexual predation of a teenager as this blog has written about and you still want to attend and don’t care such a thing took place, well I would ask what kind of Christian are you?  Its painful to talk about all this but it must be said. But let me leave you with what I consider to be the most troubling thought of all.

When I walked away from Mormonism in 1996 as of 2017 I didn’t walk very far. I traded Joseph Smith for Bill Bright. I traded Joseph Smith for Joe Jenkins. I traded Joseph Smith for Lon Solomon. I traded Joseph Smith for Rod Stafford and other pastors. Now I was equally confused and lost as an evangelical in 2017 as I was in 1996. Now that’s profoundly sad. 

6 thoughts on “At This Point the Emphasis Needs to be the Deconstruction of Evangelicalism. If You Stay an Evangelical Christian Despite the Constant Scandals and Problems I Would Honestly Question Your Faith

  1. You’ve sure come a long way. A long hard way, because evangelicalism teaches their members to shut down that inner voice telling them there’s a problem. Teaches them that they should put loyalty to the group over their own conscience. Teaches them that to be a good person is to be part of the group, do what they’re told, and never ask questions. Breaking out of that bubble is really hard, but also really important and I really commend you for doing it.

    I don’t know if you’ve read this, but Valerie Tarico wrote a really good eight-part series about the psychology behind all this. It starts here:

    https://valerietarico.com/2009/05/28/christian-belief-through-the-lens-of-cognitive-science-part-1-of-8/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If You Stay an Evangelical Christian Despite the Constant Scandals and Problems I Would Honestly Question Your Faith

    The threat of Eternal Hell (with or without being Left Behind in The Rapture) plus peer pressure can be quite a motivator.

    Is it good to throw away a career or retirement benefits? And all this for a cult? A cult that worshipped Bill Bright?

    Don’t forget the MLM pyramid angle of “multiplying ministry”. Uplines that get into a pyramid scheme early (starting near the top of the list) rarely hurt for money. Their downlines finance their retirement.

    Then there’s Clericalism — the heresy that only Clergy matter in the eyes of God and all the rest of us can go to Hell. Once this Priesthood on a pedestal was called Priests, Monks, and Nuns. Now it’s “Full Time Christian Ministry”. Their “career climb” has just been transferred from Earth (boo) to Heaven.

    How did I get involved in such corrupt churches? How did I go from one to the next over and over? One you can say is an aberration. Two just a freak situation. But repeatedly over and over?

    “Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.” — Ian Fleming

    And the first groomed you for the subsequent others. It established What is Normal, What is Christian, so like a Harley Quinn going from one Joker to the next, you gravitated towards What is Normal and What is Christian no matter what the name or brand label. Like I said above, the threat of Eternal Hell/Being Left Behind/Spewed out of Christ’s Mouth on J-Day can be quite a motivator to NOT change.

    Like

  3. Having read a lot about your past experiences of church/parachurch involvement, and having talked in person with you about some of our various experiences, I understand and get where you are coming from. I have had, and continue to have, any number of similar concerns and struggles.

    It is interesting for me because for the most part I have managed to separate my faith itself from the churches and many “Christian leaders” who supposedly represent that faith. I can say that my faith is as strong as it has ever been, and simultaneously say that my disillusionment with American evangelical Christianity is as strong as it has ever been.

    I think part of the reason I have been able to do this has to do with my church history, I came into evangelicalism out of what most would identify as a “mainstream denomination.” Unlike many who did that, I did not reject my mainstream denominational upbringing. I appreciated, and continue to appreciate, many of the theological understandings and truths I encountered there. While I ultimately came to see evangelicalism as more generally representative of my faith beliefs, I still saw much truth and value from my previous experiences and church involvement.

    Also, I had a very negative and difficult evangelical church experience some years ago that made me have to confront the issue of distinguishing between my faith beliefs and what was going on in a particular “faith community.” I found that I could hold to the first while still being troubled by the second, and even while criticizing the second.

    Having said that, I did do some “deconstruction” of my faith to better understand what were my core faith beliefs and theological understandings, versus what just happened to be the particular position or teaching of a specific church. In doing this, I did reevaluate and de-emphasize certain parts of church teaching, and came to hold a more open mindset towards some things. I had to decide what aspects of my faith were the “core” components, and what aspects were things about which I should be much less dogmatic. I came to understand that no one “systematic theology” could sufficiently capture what I understand as my faith, and that no such systematic theology could satisfactorily answer all questions, and that it was presumptuous of the proponents of those systematic theologies to say they could.

    The end result is that I still have a strong faith that I would continue to describe as “evangelical” (in the Bebbington sense) but I have some very strong concerns and criticisms regarding much of the “evangelical” community today. In my estimation, much of that community has allowed politicization, or nationalism, or power-seeking, or making celebrities of its leaders, or protection of its leaders at the expense of those who have been abused by the leaders or other church members, or “whatever” to be more important than the actual faith which it purports to profess.

    Another thing I have learned is that “evangelicalism” isn’t monolithic, and while there are troublesome aspects and trends in large portions of it, there are a lot of different “flavors” to it. So I haven’t yet given up on trying to find a local community or church that I can be a part of, although I perfectly understand and I pass no judgment on those who have given up on that notion, or who have walked away from faith entirely.

    Like

  4. Every so often I post a comment that requires moderation before it will post. Not sure what differentiates the handful that do versus the great majority that don’t! Did I mis-type my email address? Exceed a word limit? All this to say that I commented here but it is awaiting moderation.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.