Oren Paris III Resigns as Ecclesia College President, Enters Conditional Guilty Plea in Kickback Scheme

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Ecclesia was unaccredited. I have corrected it to reflect that the school is accredited by the Association of Biblical Higher Education but is not regionally accredited which is the gold standard for academic accreditation. 
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Watch out, shoes are dropping in the Ecclesia College kickback case.
Arkansas Online today reports that Oren Paris III resigned from his post as president of Ecclesia College and entered a last minute conditional

Ecclesia College

guilty plea in the kickback and bribery case which came to light early last year. Along with State Senator Jon Woods, and consultant Randall Shelton, Paris was indicted in federal court on March 1, 2017 for allegedly participating in a scheme to funnel state improvement funds through Ecclesia to Woods and Shelton. State representative Micah Neal was also in on the alleged plot and earlier entered a guilty plea.

Read the Indictment Here

Ecclesia College is an Christian school in Springdale AR which has the support of Christian nationalists David Barton and Eric Metaxas. The school is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education but is not accredited by the Higher Learning Commission which covers schools in Arkansas.
Initially, Paris was defiant and claimed he would be vindicated. Although Paris entered a guilty plea, the move may have been a legal maneuver, according to media reports. His trial was slated to begin Monday and Paris may be hoping to revisit his status if an appeals court overturns Judge Timothy Brooks decision not to dismiss the case.

Read the Plea Agreement Here

In the plea agreement, Paris admits that he “knowingly obtained GIF [General Improvement Funds] money for the College under materially false and fraudulent pretenses.” Paris then caused funds to be paid to Randall Shelton knowing that some of those funds would end up back with Senator Jon Woods in a kickback. By entering a conditional guilty plea to one count, Paris has thrown Shelton and Woods under the bus.
Incredibly, Ecclesia College is standing by Paris, writing on the school Facebook page:

Dear friends,
As you know, Dr. Oren Paris and two others were indicted a little over a year ago by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. For Oren, his immediate family, and the extended family at Ecclesia College, this has been a period of spiritual trial, eased by an ever increasing gratitude for God’s constant presence and His great faithfulness.
While we continue to believe firmly that Dr. Paris has been honest and forthright in his statements from the beginning of this case, he and his legal team are now convinced that the best path forward is to accept a conditional plea agreement negotiated with the government. We stand with him in his decision.
Information recently brought to Dr. Paris’s attention has shed new light on facts he previously knew but had interpreted differently. This enables him to truthfully make the statement required by the government. The terms of the conditional plea agreement clear the path for an appeal to be filed with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to address some the issues raised during the course of this case that have caused us all great concern regarding the appearance of fairness of the judicial system. In the meantime, while Dr. Paris will be stepping down as president of Ecclesia College until his name is cleared in order to avoid further unnecessary distraction from the College’s mission, he will continue to serve Ecclesia.
We know and trust that God is moving on our behalf toward His ultimate answer to our ongoing prayer for His deliverance. Please continue to pray with us that the upcoming appeal will lead to a fully just outcome in the end.We are completely confident that God has every individual and this institution in His all-capable hands. To the faculty, staff, and students operations will continue as normal. We look forward to seeing Him in and through this situation for the overall good and promising future of Ecclesia College.
For His glory,
EC Board of Governance

It is very difficult to square the plea agreement with this statement from the Board of Governance. If his statement to the government is true, then he “knowingly obtained GIF money for the College under materially false and fraudulent pretenses” and “knowing and intentionally engaged in a scheme to defraud the citizens of Arkansas of the honest services of Arkansas state Senator Woods.” (See image below from page 4 of the plea agreement)

This case is not over. Senator Woods and Randall Shelton still must go to trial and no doubt they will have something to say about Paris’ involvement.
 
 
 

Dennis Prager, Eric Metaxas and the Surpassing Moral Good of Evangelicals

Eric Metaxas loves him some Dennis Prager. After Jon Ward’s profile of Metaxas as a Donald Trump supporter came out on Friday, Metaxas heartily recommended Prager’s defense of evangelicals who support Trump on Saturday. In his National Review article, Prager wrote, “this Jew would like to defend Evangelicals and other Christians who support President Donald Trump.”
After chastising never-Trump evangelicals, Prager said that God used prostitute Rahab to help bring the Israelites into the promised land. If God can do that, why can’t evangelicals get over Trump’s moral failings? The punch line of the piece is:

Evangelicals realize that the moral good of defeating the Left is of surpassing importance.

Is that so? Is such a defeat what we are here to accomplish?
A few minutes of reflection bring up several problems with Prager’s summary of evangelical moral good. Who is The Left? At one time, the left was the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was considered the Left by conservatives. Many Christians agreed the races shouldn’t mix or be treated equally. Should this movement have been defeated, Mr. Prager?
To many conservatives, The Left includes people who want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. However, many evangelicals also favor inclusive policies. Ronald Reagan favored inclusive immigration policies. Was he a part of The Left to be defeated?
On Saturday, Mona Charen was booed when she blasted the Republican party for overlooking the sexual harassment allegations against President Trump. She had to escorted from the event due to concerns for her safety. She also stood against the outrageous presence on the program of Marion Merechal-Le Pen. Le Pen claims to be the political heir of her Nazi and racist grandfather. Yet, CPAC welcomed her with open arms. Trump is aligned with CPAC. Is Mona Charen, a lifelong Buckley conservative, now a member of The Left because she opposes Trumpism?

Thou Shalt Defeat The Left?

Here is another puzzle. Where is it written in the Scripture that Defeating The Left is of surpassing importance? We are supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. We are supposed to teach disciples in all nations. We are supposed to love God and then our neighbor as ourselves. Those without sin can cast a stone but if we have sin, we have to drop them. There is talk of salt and light. Somebody help me find this Defeat The Left passage.
Even though I believe Prager and by extension evangelicals who think like him are wrong about the surpassing moral importance of defeating the Left, I do think he put into words one of the Great Commandments of Trump Evangelicals.
On Metaxas’ Facebook page, he said he likes Prager so much, he is thinking of proposing marriage. That is legal of course, but it would violate his old religion, but perhaps not his new one. Since Prager is Jewish and Metaxas is Christian, they would be of different faiths. However, now that Metaxas is with his new evangelicalism striving to defeat the left, perhaps such arrangements are just fine.

Yahoo News: Eric Metaxas' House of Mirrors

In a remarkable Yahoo News article, Jon Ward gives the public a look into the thinking of Eric Metaxas as he defends himself against his critics.

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Metaxas is the author of books on Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce and most recently Martin Luther. Much to the puzzlement of many, Metaxas is also a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump. In his email exchange with Metaxas, reporter Ward sowed sharp questions about Metaxas’ support for Trump and reaped Metaxas’ whirlwind of projection and self-justification. You must read the whole thing at Yahoo and then hop on over to Medium where Jon reproduced the email exchange in full.
I could pick out many aspects of this exchange, but Ward’s piece is so clear that little commentary is needed. I will simply hit one or two high spots and then end with some commentary on Metaxas’ rant about Messiah history professor John Fea.

House of Mirrors

Ward summarized the email exchange:

To read Metaxas’ email was like entering a house of mirrors. It was not Trump who had aroused and played upon xenophobia as a candidate by his endless talk of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and his slur of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his talk of banning all Muslims from entering the country. Rather, “Beltway and Manhattan elites” were engaged in a “new and accepted tribalism and xenophobia” against “white European ‘Christian’ varieties” and in favor of Islam.

Ward really captured the contradiction in Metaxas later in the article:

Metaxas firmly planted himself on the side of the common folk against “elites.” He protested the “patronizing” and “fundamentally un-American” attitudes of media gatekeepers, who he said believe “many Americans are too uneducated or too gullible to properly understand all that confusing news in its raw form.” But when it came to the topic of Trump’s many racially charged comments dismissing or demeaning minority groups, Metaxas didn’t hesitate to take the view of an elite who knew what was better for those communities than they did themselves.

Trump, Metaxas said, “has been perceived as wrong by certain groups, by many groups. We need to take that perception seriously, but just how seriously is the larger question. Are we not living in a time when everyone is far too easily offended, so much so that we are taking our eyes off what actually matters, off actually solving the real problems of people rather than giving politically correct lip service to those problems?”

When you attack Metaxas or Trump, you’re patronizing. When Trump attacks, the other side is too easily offended.

Hitlery Clinton

More contradiction comes via Metaxas’ opinion of Hillary Clinton. On one hand, he wrote to Ward:

Christians who think the Church in America might have survived a Hillary Clinton presidency are something like the devout Christian Germans who seriously and prayerfully thought it unChristian to be involved in opposing Hitler because to do so would have dirtied their hands with politics,…

He even once tweeted “Hitlery Clinton” but in the email exchange he told Ward: “Nor do I mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, but the principle at issue is the same nonetheless.” If he didn’t mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, then why bring up Hitler?

John Fea and the Beast of Revelation

Despite his complaints of being pilloried, he did not hesitate to pillory. His response to a question about historian John Fea’s spot-on critique of his book If You Can Keep It is a case in point. Ward asked in part:

The greater point is that Fea thinks you make a common mistake of many evangelicals, that of confusing America with the kingdom of God. This is a complex and nuanced point. A firm rootedness in one’s citizenship in heaven should not produce passivity or fatalism about one’s community or nation here on earth. But the critique of culture warriors often is that they cling too tightly to worldly outcomes because the two categories (kingdom of God and America) have become almost unintelligibly mixed or combined. Do you think you have done this in any way?

Metaxas snorted in response:

Mr. Fea’s critiques have not only not persuaded me, they have helped me see more clearly why what I said in my book If You Can Keep It is necessary to communicate to as many Americans as possible at this time in history. If I could give a copy of that book to every American — or at least to every young American — I would do so. Mr. Fea’s misunderstanding on this central issue — one that particularly seems to plague academics — is at the heart of our problems as a culture and as a church.

To mix these very separate categories is a great sin indeed, but such sins must be in the eyes of the beholder. I am afraid Mr. Fea has committed the opposite sin in being so enamored of a certain anti-populist and anti-American narrative — which view is so trendy in the Academy that he should be concerned about having accepted it himself — that he falls into the category of those who find any healthy celebration of patriotism as like unto worshipping the Beast of Revelation.

Metaxas did not answer the question. All he did was attack Fea’s character and his patriotism. If Metaxas wants to elevate discourse among Christians, perhaps he should start with himself.
Those new to the criticisms of Metaxas’ historical errors in If You Can Keep It should go back and read the many critical reviews of the book by Christian historians (herehere, here, here, here). These critiques documented the many historical problems in the book. At the time, he doubled down on the errors and aligned with David Barton against the critics.
I believe historians writing about this period of history will find Ward’s article quite helpful as a window into the evangelical split over Trump. Agree or disagree with Metaxas, I think and he and Ward deserve thanks for being willing to put this conversation before the public.
Another list of critiques of Eric Metaxas’ If You Can Keep It
John Fea’s series
Tracy McKensie’s blog
Gregg Frazer’s review
My article in the Daily Caller
My blog posts addressing the errors

Ecclesia College President Oren Paris and Others Plead Not Guilty in Arkansas Bribery Scandal

Ecclesia
Ecclesia College – Springdale AR

According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Ecclesia College president Oren Paris, state Senator Jon Woods, and mutual friend and alleged co-conspirator Randell Shelton pleaded not guilty in a bribery and kickback arrangement which has already ensnared a state Representative.
Read the indictment here
I suspect the defense of Woods, Paris and Shelton will be complicated by the previous plea deal accepted by former state Representative Micah Neal. Neal admitted guilt in the kickback scheme which involved the three men. If the state Senator, college president and friend are found not guilty, then Neal might question the wisdom of his plea deal.
According to the Democrat Gazette, the three men were instructed not to talk about the case.
Despite the indictment, Paris’ college is sticking with him. His board issued a letter of support and at least one Board of Regent member, Eric Metaxas, has expressed support.

Eric Metaxas Stands By Ecclesia College President Indicted in Arkansas Kickback Scheme

Earlier today, popular Christian author Eric Metaxas posted on the Ecclesia College Facebook page and tweeted his support for embattled Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III. On March 2, Paris was indicted for fraud in connection with a kickback scheme which had already taken down an Arkansas state representative. In January, Micah Neal pleaded guilty to fraud and allegedly accepting bribes from Paris. Despite Rep. Neal’s admission of guilt, Paris has repeatedly denied any wrong doing.
On Facebook, Metaxas wrote:

Praying for Oren Paris and the Ecclesia Family. They are some of the most honorable people I know, so expecting great things in the end!

Later, Metaxas tweeted:


Metaxas is listed on the Ecclesia College website as a member of the Board of Regents. Although three members of the Board of Regents didn’t even know they were on the board, apparently Metaxas has embraced Paris and the college.
Read the indictment of Paris and State Senator Jon Woods here.
According to the indictement, Paris sought to enrich himself, his family and Ecclesia College by paying bribes to Sen. Woods and Rep. Neal. In exchange for the kickback payments, those legislators agreed to funnel state discretionary funds to Ecclesia College.

Purpose AR Bribes
From the federal indictment of Jon Woods and Oren Paris

Three People Listed by Ecclesia College as Regents Didn't Know They Were on the Board

EcclesiaNow that’s embarrassing.
Steve Henderson, H.D. McCarty and Pat Boone are listed by Ecclesia College as members of their Board of Regents. However, the men now say they didn’t know they were listed as members. Pat Boone told Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Bill Bowden he never heard of the school.
Henderson and McCarty both know about the school and know beleaguered president Oren Paris but they didn’t know they were on the Ecclesia Board.
Paris has been indicted on charges of fraud for his part in an alleged kickback scheme including two Arkansas state legislators, Sen. Jon Woods, and Rep. Micah Neal. Neal has already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Woods and Paris maintain their innocence.
Those listed as Board of Regents are:

Please click on the names below to find out more about our featured Board of Regents members:
Honorable Bob McEwen
Dr. David Barton
Pat Boone
Dr. Steve Henderson
Dennis Lindsay
Dr. H. D. McCarty
Eric Metaxas
Twila Paris
Winkie Pratney
Valentin Vale

If the leadership of the school would mislead the public about something as important as who is on the Board of Regents, it does make me wonder what else they aren’t being honest about.
 
 

Ecclesia College President Oren Paris Among New Indictments in Arkansas Bribery Scandal

The other shoe dropped today.
After Arkansas state representative Micah Neal was indicted for his part in a kickback scheme involving Western Arkansas non-profits, including Ecclesia College, speculation mounted that state senator Jon Woods would also be indicted. The fate of others mentioned in the Neal indictment was not as clear. However, today a federal grand jury released indictments of Woods, Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III and their mutual friend Randell Shelton, Jr.
Read the indictment here.
According to the indictment, Neal, Woods, Shelton and Paris conspired to defraud the citizens of Arkansas.
Paris indictment
The purpose of the arrangement was to enrich all of those indicted. From the indictment:
Purpose AR Bribes
The indictment spells out in detail the communications between Paris, Wood and Shelton.
Despite the indictment, Ecclesia’s board is standing by their man. A couple of hours ago, the college posted the following letter on their Facebook page.
Board letter
Ecclesia College also lists a Board of Regents with notable Christians such as Pat Boone, David Barton, and Eric Metaxas.

Honorable Bob McEwen
Dr. David Barton
Pat Boone
Dr. Steve Henderson
Dennis Lindsay
Dr. H. D. McCarty
Eric Metaxas
Twila Paris
Winkie Pratney
Valentin Vale
 

 

Eric Metaxas to Bonhoeffer Scholars: Every Syllable of My Bonhoeffer Bio is True

Eric Metaxas lives in a curious space among those who admire and study German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In one universe dominated by evangelicals outside of academia, Metaxas is viewed as a Bonhoeffer scholar. In another dominated by academics and Bonhoeffer scholars, he is considered to be a Bonhoeffer revisionist, someone who has hijacked Bonhoeffer perhaps for partisan religious purposes.
Yesterday on his radio show, Metaxas took aim at the latter group. His guest on the program was Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn. Arnn, a Winston Churchill scholar, told Metaxas about a recent talk at Hillsdale by the widow of Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert. In the course of the discussion with Mrs. Gilbert, the subject of Bonhoeffer came up. Arnn said all of the information about Bonhoeffer in the room came from Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer bio. Listen (at about 3:15 in the podcast):

Transcript:
There are a number of liberal critics of my book. I keep seeing stuff on the Internet and they’re very vicious and they act as though I threw something together over a weekend to suit my view of the world, you know, wrapped in the life of Bonhoeffer and I just want to use this opportunity, since I am not typically talking about my book on Bonhoeffer. Anybody who is a historian on any level whether professionally, academically, or more as an amateur as I am, you know you want to take facts very seriously. And I do want to say that there’s not a syllable in my Bonhoeffer book that isn’t true and I think that people who don’t like how Bonhoeffer comes out in my book, that’s really something that reveals where they’re coming from more than where Bonhoeffer or I are coming from because his is such a well documented life.

Taking a page from David Barton, Metaxas reduces his critical reviewers to liberals when in fact at least some of the critical “stuff” is coming from conservative evangelicals. For instance, one of the more scathing reviews of Metaxas’ book was written by Richard Weikart, an evangelical professor who is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute promotes intelligent design and is anything but a haven for liberals. Here is what Weikart says about accuracy in Metaxas’ book:

Let’s start with the historical problems. Metaxas read enough about Bonhoeffer’s life to get many facts right about the events of Bonhoeffer’s life. This is the strongest part of the biography. Even here, however, there are some major problems. For instance, Metaxas mistakenly claims, “From the beginning of his time until the end, Bonhoeffer maintained the daily discipline of scriptural meditation and prayer he had been practicing for more than a decade. . . . Once he got his Bible back he read it for hours each day.” (p. 438) This portrait will certainly make Bonhoeffer popular among serious evangelicals, but unfortunately this image is false. In 1944 Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge, “Once again I’m having weeks when I don’t read the Bible much.” Bonhoeffer had told Bethge the same thing twice before in 1941 and 1942. [4]
Metaxas also does not have a solid grasp on Bonhoeffer’s historical context. It is hard to give much credence to someone writing about German history who thinks that Bonn is in Switzerland or that Hitler was democratically elected into office or that Germany was not yet a police state in August 1934. Metaxas also claims that the Barmen Declaration, which was the doctrinal statement of the Confessing Church, rejected anti-Semitism. In reality, the Barmen Declaration does not mention anti-Semitism at all, and many scholars have criticized it for this.

Remember Weikart is not a liberal.
To fact check the claim about the Barmen Declaration, all one has to do is read the declaration (source) and compare it to what Metaxas wrote about it in the Bonhoeffer bio on page 222.

On the last three days of May 1934, the leaders of the Pastors’ Emergency League held a synod in Barmen. It was there, on the Wupper River, that they wrote the famous Barmen Declaration, from which emerged what came to be known as the Confessing Church.
The purpose of the Barmen Declaration was to state what the German church had always believed, to ground it in the Scriptures, and to differentiate it from the bastardized theology that had been coming from the German Christians. It made clear that the German church was not under the authority of the state; it repudiated the anti-Semitism and other heresies of the German Christians and their “official” church led by Müller. (emphasis added)

As Weikart said, the Barmen Declaration doesn’t address anti-Semitism. Metaxas said the document repudiated it.
Two other Bonhoeffer scholars have written critical reviews which point out some of the book’s errors. I don’t know the political views of Victoria Barnett or Clifford Green but I do know they know their Bonhoeffer. They point out many syllables which should be examined (See Barnett’s review here, and Green’s here).
For my part, I have documented that the quote Metaxas attributes to Bonhoeffer — Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold usmetaxas back flap guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act — did not come from Bonhoeffer’s works. In fact, I have repeatedly asked Metaxas for a citation for the quote or, in absence of a source, a retraction and he has never responded.*
Even though I am confident in my work, I cannot imagine claiming that it is flawless or infallible. In fact, people who claim such perfection should arouse our skepticism. Rather than bask in the glow of his guest’s flattery, I hold out hope that Metaxas might eventually take a more reasonable and scholarly approach.
Later in the broadcast, Dr. Arnn suggested that Metaxas consider college teaching. I do not second that motion. One must be prepared to accept peer review and critical reflection in order to do so. Apparently, Metaxas believes he has no need of such refinement.
 
*This is not the first time Metaxas has minimized his factual errors. See his response to significant problems with the historical accounts in his new book, If You Can Keep It (link, link). See also this new review at Christ and Pop Culture.

Eric Metaxas: Trump is not wrong nearly as much as everybody says he’s wrong

Trump is not wrong nearly as much as everybody says he’s wrong. – Eric Metaxas
This and other gems can be found in an interview with Metaxas conducted by Emma Green for The Atlantic and out this morning. Green interviewed Metaxas at the March for Life and then followed up with an email about Trump’s controversial travel ban.
The above quote in italics comes from an exchange where Green asked:

Green: Evangelical Christians, as a group, are committed to the idea that there is a truth that can be firmly established. But at times, this does not seem to be Trump’s worldview. Take voter fraud—a claim he has repeated with no evidence to back it up.

About Trump’s outrageous claim that 1.5-3 million people voted illegally in the last election, Metaxas answered:

Metaxas: I’m dying to see what this investigation will turn up. Here’s one thing the media and all of us should learn: Trump is not wrong nearly as much as everybody says he’s wrong. In the end, often, what he’s said has been corroborated. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to look into it. It undermines democracy even if there’s a perception of voter fraud.

Probably, I shouldn’t be too surprised since Metaxas said he used David Barton’s materials to help him write his fact-challenged book, If You Can Keep It.
No, the media doesn’t need to learn anything. They need to proceed on the basis that facts should be verified.
Metaxas told Green: “It undermines democracy even if there’s a perception of voter fraud.” We agree there. And that’s why it is irresponsible for Trump to continue claiming without evidence that millions voted illegally.
Finally, on the immigration ban, Metaxas reveals that he hasn’t read that much about it: “As far as I can tell from my limited reading, the order is not what so many are saying it is.” My answer is that he needs to read more. He could start here, and then here and especially here. Perhaps, he should read this report as well.

Which Donald Trump Did Eric Metaxas Support?

Just before Donald Trump told the whole world that all decisions he makes will be according to the values of “America First,” Eric Metaxas published a piece in the Wall Street Journal with the title, “The Promise of Donald Trump.”
In his inaugural address, Trump said:

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First.

In his short piece, Metaxas echoed the themes in his factually flawed book, “If You Can Keep It.” From the article:

Most who have truly loved America have done so with a conviction that we are, to use Lincoln’s phrase, God’s “almost chosen people.” We have been abundantly blessed not for ourselves, but so that we could be a beacon of hope and freedom to the world, not least for people like my parents, who sailed to these shores from war-torn Europe in the 1950s and who, when they passed the Statue of Liberty, were enraptured and emotional, knowing that the liberty it represented was not just a word but could be a way of life, one they hoped to embrace and pass on to their children, and now have, by God’s grace.

Metaxas doesn’t seem to hear the “America First” part of the promises from Donald Trump. Metaxas wants us to believe that America has been brought into existence by God to help others. Trump seems to favor a more nationalistic set of values.