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.

This Popular Quote — A Private Faith That Does Not Act — Is about William Wilberforce Not by Him

When I first read it, it occurred to me that there was something not quite right about the tweet below:


Eric Metaxas, who wrote a biography about Wilberforce, retweeted the quote without comment so surely it was said by Wilberforce, right?
I view most quotes now with suspicion (see this quote misattributed to Bonhoeffer) and this one looked fishy. Indeed, it isn’t by Wilberforce but about him.
I posted the quote on Twitter and asked for assistance tracking it down. It didn’t take long for Matthew Dickson to post a link to an Introduction written by Chuck Colson to a 1996 reprinting of Wilberforce’s A Practical View of Christianity. On Twitter at least the switch of attribution from Colson to Wilberforce took place sometime between 2011 and 2012.
Here is the quote from Colson’s Introduction:
Colson quote about WW
So Colson wrote it about Wilberforce. Even though it is frequently attributed to Wilberforce, it isn’t his quote.
As I have explored these fake or misattributed quotes, I have found that a major problem to accuracy is a site called “AZ Quotes.” This site is often referred to by misguided quoters. Along with Eric Metaxas, AZ quotes seems to show up frequently as a source for the misattributed quote about silence in the face of evil. Although I have reported both quotes as being wrongly attributed, the quotes remain. Perhaps, the site needs to hear from more readers.

Ecclesia College Bans Questions about Arkansas Bribery Scandal

Ecclesia
Ecclesia College

Last week, Arkansas state representative Micah Neal pleaded guilty to fraud and accepting bribes from two non-profits in his district in exchange for state government discretionary funds. One of the non-profits has been identified as Ecclesia College, a Bible college in Springdale, Arkansas. In the plea agreement with Rep. Neal, the president of Ecclesia College — Oren Paris III –  is referred to as one of those who authorized payments to Rep. Neal. After this news emerged, Paris issued a statement via Facebook denying any wrongdoing.
After Paris posted his denial, I left a comment asking about specific elements of the plea agreement. The agreement claimed Paris (“Person B”) authorized payment of $18,000 to Neal through a consultant (“Person C”). On the Facebook page comment section, I asked about the identity of Person C is and why Ecclesia College paid Person C $65,000 as stated in the plea agreement. According to the agreement, $18,000 was authorized to go to Rep. Neal. Two other commenters also called on Paris to provide more information.
As of yesterday, Ecclesia College has removed those comments from their Facebook denial and banned my account from commenting. I heard from one other commenter who is also banned. Instead of addressing what are fair questions based on the plea agreement, Ecclesia removed the comments.
It seems likely that additional charges will come in this case and that the questions for Ecclesia will not go away. If there is truly no wrongdoing Ecclesia should be transparent about this deal which involves tax payer funding and a breach of public trust.

Ecclesia College Benefited from Arkansas Bribery Scheme

UPDATE: Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III tonight issued a statement denying any wrongdoing in this case.
A news report out of Arkansas sounds ominous for some of the blog’s favorite people.
Ecclesia College received $200,000 from an Arkansas government agency to build a building on campus. According to the report a sitting State Representative took a $18,000 bribe in order to funnel the money to Ecclesia.
This isn’t the first time Ecclesia benefited from public funds. The school received $592,000 via the same discretionary fund in calendar years 2013 and 2014. Only the Arkansas Energy Office received a higher amount of funding over the same period.  Despite lack of regional accreditation, Arkansas tax dollars have been spent lavishly on Ecclesia.
David Barton and Eric Metaxas are on the Board of Regents at Ecclesia, although there is nothing in the report suggesting they knew anything about the matter.
According to the plea agreement, the president (not named in the agreement) of “Entity B” was aware of the arrangement. The president of “Entity B” (Ecclesia College) is Oren Paris III.
According to a contact at Ecclesia president Paris is meeting with the board about the plea agreement this afternoon.
Here’s part of the agreement involving the only named participant, Representative Micah Neal:

Honest Services Fraud Concerning Entity B
v. In or around 2014, Senator A told NEAL that if NEAL, as an Arkansas Representative, authorized and directed GIF money to Entity B, then Person B would pay NEAL a portion of the money in exchange for EAL’s official action.
w. NEAL and Senator A agreed to authorize and direct a total of $200,000 of GIF money to Entity B in exchange for kickbacks from Person B. Of the $200,000, NEAL agreed to direct $50,000 of the GIF money to Entity B, and Senator A agreed to direct $150,000 of the GIF money to Entity B.
x. On or about December 18, 2014, the NWAEDD issued a check in the amount of$200,000, and drawn on the NWAEDD’s Arvest Bank account ending in 8611, to Entity B. The check constituted GIF monies that had been appropriated by NEAL and Senator A, and was awarded pursuant to a GIF grant application signed by Person B that had been emailed, via interstate wire communications, to the NWAEDD from Entity B in Springdale, Arkansas, on or about December 5, 2014. The application requested a $200,000 GIF grant and listed NEAL and Senator A as sponsors.
y. On or about December 19, 2014, the $200,000 check from the NWAEDD to Entity B was deposited into Entity B’s Centennial Bank account ending in 0681. Arvest Bank subsequently settled the check totaling $200,000 with Centennial Bank via an interstate wire communication.
z. The spreadsheets maintained by the NWAEDD for NEAL and Senator A showed a deduction in December 2014 of $50,000 and $150,000, respectively, for the GIF grant awarded to Entity B.
aa. A check dated January 5, 2015 and drawn on Entity B’s Centennial Bank account ending in 0681 in the amount of $65,000 was issued to Person C’s company and deposited that same day into Person C’s company’s Arvest Bank account ending in 7761. The check was issued at the direction of Person B. Over the following three days, Person C made three cash withdrawals per day totaling $53,700 from his company’s Arvest Bank account ending in 7761.
bb. Between approximately December 19, 2014 and approximately January 30, 2015, and following Entity B’s receipt of NEAL’s and Senator A’s GIF money in the amount of $200,000, Senator A contacted NEAL and told him that Person C would be bringing $18,000 in cash to NEAL in exchange for NEAL having authorized and directed the appropriation of the GIF money to Entity B.
cc. Between approximately December 19, 2014 and approximately January 30, 2015, and following NEAL’s communication with Senator A, Person C met with NEAL and, on behalf of Person B, paid NEAL $18,000 in cash.
dd. NEAL agrees and stipulates that he conspired with Senator A and others in the Western District of Arkansas and elsewhere to deprive the citizens of the State of Arkansas of his honest services as an Arkansas state legislator by taking official actions and using his official position to appropriate and direct funds to Entity A and Entity B in exchange for kickback payments, and that the conspiracy and scheme to defraud the citizens of the State of Arkansas of his honest services involved the use of interstate wire communications and mailings that were sent and/or received in the Western District of Arkansas.

Stay tuned…