Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

This is the sixth interview in my series reflecting on 15 years of blogging. Messiah University history professor John Fea joined me to discuss getting history right, court evangelicals, and much more. John is a prolific writer and you can read his publishing credits in the bio below. He also hosts a podcast called The Way of Improvement Leads Home and writes frequently at his blog by the same name.

John has been an active public historian during his tenure at Messiah. He has confronted the historian misadventures of David Barton and Eric Metaxas. I became acquainted with John in 2011 when I first started to fact check David Barton’s historical claims. Not long after that, he endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter that addressed many claims in David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Along with my history professor colleagues at Grove City College, John is one of several historians who have helped me along the way.

I believe historians doing history properly can provide our nation an extraordinary service. We need to know our rights and the heritage of free speech and protest. What does the Consitution say and what took place when the framers debated that document? Without full context, people are vulnerable to ideologues who selectively use historical events and quotes to create what John calls a “usable past,” a past which supports their current political aims.

As an evangelical, John has special focus on evangelicals in public life. He coined the term “court evangelical” to refer to evangelical leaders who fawn over Donald Trump and never hold him accountable. John provides a valuable overview of this concept in the interview. I hope you benefit from it.

John Fea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

He is the author or editor of six books, including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionWhy Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past; and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Christianity Today, Christian Century, The Washington Post,  USA Today,  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

John has lectured widely and speaks regularly to churches, school and teacher groups, civic groups, and historical societies. He appeared on NBC News, CNN, C-SPAN,  MSNBC, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio programs across the country.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, Part Two

In this concluding video, former Mars Hill Church executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas talk about incidents not discussed publicly before. They also describe more personally their feelings about their actions at the church and their hopes for the future.

In this portion of the interview, we cover Mars Hill Global Fund, how public relations were handled at the church, their perspective on Mark Driscoll’s leadership style, James MacDonald’s and Paul Tripp’s resignation, being evicted from the Acts 29 Network, the findings of the investigation of formal charges against Driscoll, his resignation and move to Phoenix. They also weigh in on whether or not they ever saw Driscoll wear a bulletproof vest. There’s a special Easter egg for those interested in James MacDonald.

For those who are interested in Mars Hill because you lived it, or because you want to know how to prevent it, these are important discussions. Here is part two.

Watch part one here.

For all posts on Mars Hill Church, click here.

For all posts on Mark Driscoll, click here.

For all posts on Mars Hill Global Fund, click here.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Gospel for Asia Canada Seeks Protection from Creditors Amid Donor Lawsuit

The Canadian iteration of Gospel for Asia has filed for creditor protection at the same time it is being sued in multi-million dollar action by donors who claim the charity did not use funds as donors intended. The action appears to be a stalling tactic since the charity doesn’t have any significant creditors except the possibility of paying back donations that didn’t go where donors thought they would go.

Read the affadavit filed by GFA’s Pat Emerick here

Read the Court order on creditor protection here. 

The order prohibits GFA from disbursing any funds without permission of the court and sets up Price Waterhouse as GFA’s overseer. GFA has asked the court to stay this prohibition but the court has yet to rule on that request.

Of course, the donors don’t want GFA to be able to send money out of the country until GFA can satisfy donors and the authorities that the funds are being used as promised. They favor the hold on sending funds out of the country. I would like to add that funds cannot be sent to Gospel for Asia in India or Ayana Charitable Trust or Believers’ Church or at least two other NGOs because the Indian government removed their ability to accept foreign funds. I hope this court action explores where the funds are actually going and how they get from shell NGOs with no actual structure to the people in need.

This is a missing link that no one at GFA has ever spoken about. No one has ever said how funds get from the U.S. to needy people in India since the organizations with a structure to distribute them can’t accept them. I understand the Believers’ Church has set up shell NGOs but this seems like it could be a stealthy and perhaps illegal way to funnel foreign funds to organizations which the Indian government has prohibited from getting them.

 

Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner, Part One

In the category of unlikely interviews, this one is near the top of the list. Today, I publish the first part of an interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas. Turner, Bruskas and Mark Driscoll made up the three executive elders of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Driscoll was also the president of the corporation and clearly in charge. Turner was the financial guy and Bruskas occupied the number two spot. Given amount of leaked information I was reporting on Mars Hill, I imagine I was public enemy number one for this trio in 2014.

Nonetheless, after the church closed, neither Turner nor Bruskas were hostile when I contacted them. Over the years, they have talked more about how they have reached out to Mars Hill people and tried to mend fences. I don’t know all about it, but I don’t need to.

I do know that they have a perspective that I never was able to get while I reported on Mars Hill. Almost everything they have told me vindicated the reporting I did. But with that out of the way, I wanted to know how it was to try to function in what Paul Tripp called, “…without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” They did not evade their own responsibility as you will hear.

So I hope you will hear them out in both parts of the interview (part two coming Thursday). In part one, we discuss Dave Kraft’s first charges, the Strange Fire Conference, “big brother” James MacDonald, the Janet Mefferd interview, the Result Source Bestseller scheme, Driscoll’s content management system and Driscoll as “The Brand.”:

For all posts on Mars Hill Church, click here.

For all posts on Mark Driscoll, click here.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

And a Little Tweet Shall Lead Them – Response to John MacArthur’s Worship Service

I thought about writing a post about John MacArthur’s decision to defy Governor Newsom’s restrictions of church gatherings. I planned to argue that his decision places his congregation and community in jeopardy. I also find fault with his Christian nationalist rationale for violating a legitimate public health edict. However, sometimes a tweet does this trick. Take this one from Hunter Crowder:

The state of California has a compelling interest in limiting the spread of COVID-19. California now has overtaken New York in the number of cases in the U.S.  Indoor church activities make spread easier for the virus and it is easy to understand why the governor wants to limit indoor crowd size.

The Supreme Court twice has let stand rulings that allowed states to restrict religious services and they may do it again. MacArthur may be using this for attention, I don’t know. However, given the situation before us, Hunter has as good a theory as anyone.

Additional information:

I have been tracking churches as a source of spread of COVID-19. You can see that post here.

For more on the COVID-19 outbreak at Allaso Ranch, click here.

Coming This Week: An Unlikely Conversation with Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner

On Tuesday (7/28) and Thursday (7/30) of this week, I will publish parts one and two respectively of an interview with former Mars Hill Church executive elders Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner. Sutton and Dave were the executive elders in charge of Mars Hill along with Mark Driscoll.

Six years ago, such a conversation could not be imagined. I was writing several times a week about Mars Hill Church. Exactly six years ago, I examined media coverage of Mars Hill’s critics and their finances. On July 30, 2014 I reported that noted biblical counselor Paul Tripp resigned from the church’s Board of Advisor’s and Accountability. As Turner and Bruskas describe in our interview, the following month of August in 2014 was a terrible month for the church.

Recently, Sutton and Dave approached me with a desire to set some things straight. The result is this interview where we examine key events from 2013 through October 2014 culminating in a discussion of Mark Driscoll’s resignation. We also take on a few residual issues relating to the church.

Here are some excerpts of part one:

In part one, we discuss John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, James MacDonald as Mark’s big brother, the Janet Mefferd Interview where she accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarism, Mars Hill’s content management system, Mark Driscoll as “The Brand,” and the Result Source New York Times Bestseller List scandal. Watch for this on Tuesday, July 28.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Allaso Ranch’s Health Screening Form – “All Reasonable Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19”

Many have asked to see the COVID-19 waiver and health screening form. While it doesn’t seem to have the force of a waiver, it does screen for COVID-19 symptoms. It is vague about the risks involved and doesn’t spell out the extent of contact students will have with each other, volunteers, and staff.

The small print is really small so I have enlarged that section below:

There doesn’t appear to be an agreement to hold the camp harmless if a child falls ill to COVID-19. This document isn’t much help from an informed consent perspective. It says the Ranch is taking “all reasonable measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” A reasonable measure that children were required to do on the bus ride to the Ranch was wear a mask. However, as soon as they were there, the teens were allowed to take them off, never to wear them again. That was an unreasonable measure. Given the trust many parents have in church leaders, I can see why parents would have thought that the Ranch would have required safer procedures.

In fact, according to the CDC guidelines for summer camps, the procedures at the camp placed campers and volunteers in the next to highest risk category.

The more people a camper or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in youth camp settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Small groups of campers stay together all day, each day. Campers remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., city, town, county, community).

  • More Risk: Campers mix between groups but remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

  • Even More Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

  • Highest Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

In comparison to these guidelines, campers were in the “even more risk” category. Parents were not informed of this.

As of today, the church has remained mostly silent to the public with brief statements claiming CDC guidelines were followed with ill campers. However, what about the other CDC guidelines? The church has yet to come out with an explanation for why the other guidelines weren’t followed or provide a plan moving forward.

If you are a parent or camper with more information about your time at Allaso Ranch, you may contact me via email here.

Did Allaso Ranch Follow CDC Guidelines During Fellowship Church Camp?

In yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fellowship Church issued a statement saying Allaso Ranch followed CDC guidelines during camp sessions in July. While it seems clear that the church did follow some guidelines, it seems just as clear that they did not follow critical mitigation guidelines such as social distancing and use of masks.

The CDC updated Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps in June.  Reviewing these guidelines, it appears that Allaso Ranch selectively followed them. The CDC set risk parameters as follows:

The more people a camper or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in youth camp settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Small groups of campers stay together all day, each day. Campers remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., city, town, county, community).
  • More Risk: Campers mix between groups but remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Even More Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Highest Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

Anyone following any of the media on this story will know that campers and volunteers did not wear masks and did not stay 6 feet apart. Based on what I’ve seen and what parents and campers have said, the Allaso Ranch has placed campers at “even more risk.” Campers were mixed together in large groups, they were not spaced apart, activities were indoor and outdoor, but they were all from the same community (as far as I know). Examine the photos below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are numerous photos like these. The only masks I have seen were in a skit where the mouths were cut out of the masks. Otherwise campers and volunteers were not wearing masks. They did not social distance.

Some have complained that camp would be impossible with masks and social distancing. However, according to CDC guidelines — which Fellowship Church claimed to follow — masks and distancing are part of what can make camp safe. From the guidelines:

Cloth Face Coverings

  • Teach and reinforce the use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings may be challenging for campers (especially younger campers) to wear in all-day settings such as camp. Face coverings should be worn by staff and campers (particularly older campers) as feasible, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Information should be provided to staff and campers on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.

Masks are “most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult” says the CDC. That would be much of the time during camp.

In light of the CDC guidelines, I ask Fellowship Church and Allaso Ranch again why they didn’t follow them. They obviously know about them because they invoked them in their statement to the Star-Telegram.

The church is clearly following the media and public reaction. Late on Thursday, Amy Smith posted a promo for Fellowship Church’s Mix Camp on Twitter. Within the hour, the video had been removed from Youtube. Amy was able to post it to Twitter.

By the way, don’t miss the inclusion of black lives matter at the beginning as a crazy moment.

UPDATE: One of the mothers who publicly posted on Facebook updated her information late Thursday.

I want to add to this post. I did receive a call from Scott Wilson at Fellowship Church and discussed the situation and the church took action to start calling families. There have been many kids testing positive post camp. Covid-19 is tricky and you can have the virus without any symptoms. Many people get a headache and if not being vigilant- I could have missed the signs because they were not outright significant. Most of the children I know who’ve had Covid-19 have a slight fever and headache. While this may not be everyone’s experience, for us, it has not been the crazy the media has been depicting. Please continue to pray for healing for those effected in our lives. Choose the power of prayer and believe God will continue to guide us all through these uncertain times.

Although no numbers of cases were given, if “many kids” are testing positive, it seems like it would be prudent to postpone camp for the rest of the summer. Obviously, Texas is a hot spot and it seems likely that infected students or volunteers or staff are going to start the spreading all over again after the current two week break.

Fellowship Church Remains Silent on COVID-19 Outbreak at Allaso Ranch

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an article about the outbreak of COVID-19 cases among campers and staff voluneers at Allaso Ranch. As I did the day before, the paper reported that an unknown number of campers (according to one parent as many as 80 at present) contracted COVID-19 at Allaso Ranch during camping sessions during the month of July.

The Star-Telegram reporters interviewed parents who said they felt a false sense of security because their children had to wear masks on the bus ride from Fellowship Church to Allaso Ranch. However, according to the campers, they were allowed to remove the masks as soon as they arrived, never to wear them again.

Photos of camp activities confirm the reports of campers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to camp guidelines: “Camp staff will wear face coverings whenever they are in close proximity to others and while handing food.” If camp staff includes volunteer staff, this guideline wasn’t followed. In at least one of the instances documented by a parent, a staff volunteer was sick in a cabin exposing students to the virus. According to campers, staff volunteers did not wear masks. Food service workers did but volunteer staff can’t be seen in photos wearing masks. Understandably, parents have many questions and deserve answers.

No Comment

Despite the possibility that hundreds of campers appear to have been exposed to COVID-19, Fellowship Church and Allaso Ranch have been silent.  Neither organization has responded to my requests for comment or information and they did not respond to the Star-Telegram.

It is also disturbing that the parents quoted in the paper said they feared retribution. These parents are doing what parents should do. They are being protective of their children and warning other parents. I feel pretty sure that Fellowship Church thinks of itself as pro-family. It is now time to show it. Will Fellowship Church be pro-family or pro-Fellowship Church?

Fellowship Church Spreads Gospel and COVID-19 at Allaso Ranch (UPDATED)

Keystone Church in Keller, TX is under fire from parents who want answers about the number of COVID-19 cases among teens returning from a camp experience sponsored by the church. However, Keystone may not be the only church needing to provide answers. I have learned that campers and staff who attended Allaso Ranch this month sponsored by Ed Young’s Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX have also tested positive after attending the church’s Mix Camp 2020.

On 7/20, Amy Smith at her Watchkeep blog posted some social media postings about a possible COVID-19 outbreak due to Fellowship Church camping experiences at Allaso Ranch. A public Facebook posting described a camper and staffer positive with COVID.  Since then, I have had several conversations with multiple parents about their children who have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning from Allaso Ranch. One parent on Twitter pegged the number at ten positives, while others have no way to estimate since the church or camp has not offered that information. Emails to both the church and Allaso Ranch have not been answered.

One staffer developed symptoms and was sent home and is now quite ill. Another child tested positive but has more mild symptoms. Parents I spoke with said that they have heard from parents that other children have also tested positive. A Fellowship Church pastor called at least one of the parents and left a voice mail saying that a staff member at the camp tested positive during the camp week.

The pastor also said in his voicemail,

We followed every single procedure, actually gone above and beyond that, and anybody who may have exhibited any symptoms of anything, headache, cough, sneezing,whether it be a temperature, anything, we were on top of it and in fact if it was a trainer we just sent them home, and that actually took place in your [child’s] room and we sent [them] home, [they] were having some mild symptoms, we don’t know if their COVID positive, but we just took precautionary measures and sent them home, and there’s a new leader in that group. So we just wanted to let you know that, and if there is any COVID positivity, we will let you know that immediately.

While it was good that the pastor called this family, is it true that the camp followed every procedure? A review of photos of students at camp indicates that masks were not worn and social distancing was not followed. Here is a tweet from Fellowship Church as an illustration.

I also reviewed several photos from camp during July and campers are bunched together without masks throughout the week. According to the camp guidelines, masks are not required for campers. However, the guidelines specify that “Camp staff will wear face coverings whenever they are in close proximity to others and while handing food.” In the tweet photos and any other camp photos I have seen, volunteer staff are not wearing masks when they are near campers. If volunteer staff are considered staff, then it is understandable that parents would be concerned that guidelines may not have been followed.

Allaso Ranch has not posted (or has removed) pictures of camp from 2020. However, there are many photos of camp from past years. If you want to see what camp looks like at Allaso Ranch in 2020, go look at what it looked like in 2019.

As with the Keystone situation, there are hundreds of teens back in the community who may be spreading the virus without knowing it. Furthermore, the camp remains open to continue acting as a super spreader. Surely, Fellowship Church can find a way to spread the Gospel without spreading the virus.

UPDATE: Just after I posted this, another parent posted word on Facebook that her daughter attended Allaso Ranch and tested positive for COVID-19. Although this parent signed a waiver, she was under the impression that the camp was going to require mitigation efforts. However, she also confirms she saw no evidence that any efforts were conducted.

Here are some additional photos of campers at Allaso Ranch. Also, Fellowship Church has blocked Amy Smith on Twitter. Scroll down to the bottom tweet to see the photos. You will need to click that tweet.

Allaso Ranch – July 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have more information about COVID-19 cases at Allaso Ranch, contact me here.