Trump’s Dirty Deeds: Is This an Off-Ramp for Evangelicals?

Yesterday President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for several crimes, including campaign finance violations. In his remarks prior to receiving his sentence, Cohen said he was sorry he helped cover up Donald Trump’s “dirty deeds.”

According to Cohen, Trump directed him to make hush money payments to two women for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential campaign. If Cohen (and Dept. of Justice prosecutors) are right, Donald Trump deceived the American people when he told reporters that he didn’t know about the hush money payments. Putting aside the intricacies of campaign finance laws, the evidence is mounting that Trump told the nation a story he knew wasn’t true.

Evangelicals in 1998 and Evangelicals Now

I am old enough to remember when presidential lying about personal moral behavior set off spasms of indignation among evangelicals. In 1998, some of them put pen to paper with an admonishment and solemn call for integrity.* They said the Clinton presidency was in “crisis.” Now, many evangelicals think we are in the best of times. My, how times have changed.

The entire statement is here. Let me bring out a couple of segments which could be written about the current crisis, if only it was seen as one.

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

Remember this was written by evangelicals in 1998. Now we hear that a good economy and Supreme Court justices trump violations of ethical standards. Evangelicals of 1998 were “troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse.” Now they join in the debasing.

It appears clear to me that evangelical leaders no longer believe “the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda.”

Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

This statement finds new relevance in the presidency of Donald Trump for reasons which go far beyond hush money payoffs to women. It is absolutely stunning what is now acceptable to evangelical leaders. Current evangelical leaders clearly have flipped this statement. It appears to me that they believe that their political agenda is more important than the “moral character of a people.”

At least that is how it has seemed up to now. I have to wonder: Could the Michael Cohen sentencing and surrounding events be the off-ramp for evangelical leaders? It was also revealed yesterday that the National Enquirer entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors regarding the hush money to one of the two women. The effect is that they acknowledged the money was paid to influence the campaign which contradicts Trump’s story. In other words, the magazine sided with Cohen’s version of events. Will evangelicals stick with Trump if it becomes crystal clear to them that he directed felonious violations of the law in contrast to his claims?

 

*(Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency. The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998. To be released on 13 November 1998.)

The Fellowship Foundation’s Doug Burleigh Jokes About Russian Collusion with Jesus

In March of this year, one of the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast Doug Burleigh joked about Russian collusion with Jesus prior to delivering a sermon at a church in Tacoma, WA.  Then last week, in a federal indictment, it was alleged that Russian national Maria Butina used her connections with the NPB to carry out conspiracy activities. Although the prayer breakfast organizer was not named in the indictment, Mr. Burleigh is the NPB member responsible for coordinating with the Fellowship’s representatives from Russia.

Prior to his sermon, Burleigh told his audience that MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough found out the number of Russians attending the NPB in 2018. However, Burleigh dismissed any concerns about that as “fake news.”

Burleigh told the group that he had 61 Russians and 52 Ukrainians at the event this year. Then at 1:02, he said:

Thursday was the breakfast, the 8th of February, and I started getting texts from all over the country. ‘What’s the deal with the Russian collusion?’ Well, I’m going to personally share with you a little fake news okay that I ran into is the morning guy on MSNBC who hates Trump Joe Scarborough, he goes, ‘I hear that there’s more Russians than have ever come to the prayer breakfast before and that’s true. But what he didn’t know is that a lot of them were young professionals we invited to lift up Jesus and we had six wonderful times with them. He said, ‘there must be collusion, obviously there’s something going on, so I got friends from around the country going what’s the deal with the Russian collusion. And I said, ‘boy there’s big time collusion: it’s the Russians and Jesus, that’s the collusion.

In the July 14 indictment it is alleged that in 2017 two of the Russians who were supposed to be “colluding with Jesus” at the prayer breakfast were Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin. In fact, both Butina and Torshin may have been working the religious group on behalf of the Russian government. Because Butina asked, according to the indictment, the NPB organizer offered to give Butina 10 Russian spots for the 2017 event. It is not clear if that happened or if there were any requests for the 2018 event.

His Tacoma speech wasn’t the first time Burleigh expressed a dim view of the U.S. media. At a Russian prayer meeting in May 2017, Burleigh spoke to a group affiliated with the American Fellowship. After the meeting, he spoke to writer Andrei Tyunyaev.

At about 2:25, Tyunyaev asked Burleigh a question:

Tyunyaev  – The fact that you are present here after a few years of a going down relationship between Russia and America and growing tension and so just for us it’s a good thing so what’s your impression, what’s your hope for the future?

Burleigh: I’m very hopeful. The reason I’m hopeful is Mr. Trump is a relational person. He’s a negotiator. He’s going to sit down with Putin and they’re going to talk. And I think, we have an expression in America – win-win. I think he wants a win-win situation. I’ll bet Mr. Putin wants a win-win situation. In other words, both sides win. So how’s that going to happen? When they get together and talk. You know in our country, it’s always strange to in divorces, the attorneys tell the husband and wife not to talk to each other. How can you possibly reconcile with somebody you can’t talk to? The real estate agent tells the seller not to talk to the buyer. You know why that is? He’s worried about losing his commission. He doesn’t care about them getting the best deal they can get.

So the reason I’m hopeful is I think our president really wants to talk to your president. I think they’re both intelligent people. Neither of them wants war. I know that. People always tell me Americans want war. No we don’t. And the reason I know you don’t is I’ve been coming here for 52 years. War to an American is going to Vietnam or Afghanistan. War to a Russian is the tanks coming down the streets of your house. You understand war far better than we do. And I tell my American friends that all the time, you don’t want war. So I’m hopeful.

By the way, some of my best friends are Russian. They’re loyal, faithful and loving. So some of my best friends are American, and they are loyal, faithful and loving. So we just gotta get them together.

Tyunyaev: So when we learned after the prayer breakfast that Mr. Trump would become the president of America, we were pretty cheerful and supportive of that fact. We can see the difficulties that he has to overcome to change the structure. We believe in Mr. Trump’s intelligent and smart approach to the issues, walking toward each other and not away from each other.

Burleigh: Yeah, and the problem in our country is press hates Trump, okay? And I think the press is so biased that you don’t get a true story from them. Let me give you an example from last week is the president said he would be honored to meet with the president of North Korea. I thought, ‘that’s the first time anybody’s ever said that.’ All the press could focus on was the word ‘honored.’ He said he be honored to meet with him!?

Tyunyaev: That’s a step of friendship

Burleigh: Of course it is. He went the extra mile to affirm him. What’s wrong with that?

National Prayer Breakfast: Non-Partisan?

Those close to the Fellowship Foundation that I have spoken to insist that the organization is non-partisan. In fact, one recently told me that if the Fellowship and NPB were perceived as pro-Trump (or pro anybody), the “group would self-destruct.”

In contrast, Burleigh portrays a positive stance toward Trump in these and other public statements. His criticisms of the press are startling and parrot the Trump talking points. In fact, the press coverage of Trump’s announcement in May 2017 about meeting Kim Jong-un was straightforward and only reported what Trump said. In reaction to Trump’s words, many pundits and experts criticized Trump which the press also reported. Furthermore, some raised the observation that conservatives criticized Obama when he offered to meet with our enemies without preconditions.

Has the Fellowship taken a pro-Trump, pro-Russia position? While I doubt it given some of the people still involved in it, I wonder what might happen over time now that leader Doug Coe has passed.

 

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After Eighteen Years, Paige Patterson Contradicts Himself About Domestic Violence (Updated)

(See “everybody should own at least one” update at the end of the post)
On Saturday April 28, Jonathan Merritt tweeted a link to a blog with an 18 year old audio of former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson advising women not to divorce abusive husbands.


After a social media explosion, Patterson issued a response on Sunday on the website of the seminary he leads, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The comments were made in March 2000 at a Southern Baptist Convention conference (co-sponsored by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and had been posted several times over the years on various blogs and websites. Over the years, several writers (including me) have asked Patterson if these views are his current views. Now, 18 years later, he has responded and the outrage is growing.

Black Eyes

Here is what he said in the audio after he is addressed by an unknown questioner (click the link to listen).

It depends on the level of abuse to some degree.  I have never in my ministry counseled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that’s always wrong counsel.  There have been, however, an occasion or two when the level of the abuse was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough that I have counseled temporary separation and the seeking of help.  I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases. I would cite examples of it but the examples that I have had in my ministry are so awful that I will not cite them in public. That’s enough to say however, that there’s a severe physical and/or moral danger that’s involved before you come to that. More often, when you face abuse, it is of a less serious variety but all abuse is serious.
There are two or three things that I say to women who are in those kinds of situations. First of all, I say to them that you must not forget the power of prayer. Just as one of your little children comes to you with a broken heart and crawls up into your arms and looks into your face and with tears running down his cheeks asks you to intervene in a situation. If you have anything in you of a loving parent’s heart at all that’ll bring you to your attention and you’re off and running. And now if you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more shall your Father in heaven do good if you ask of Him. Do not forget the power of consecrated concentrated prayer.  Get on your face and ask him to intervene and He is a good and a dear heavenly Father at some point He will intervene. I give one brief example of it.
I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”
And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came. And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front. And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.” And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?” And he’s a great husband today. And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis. And remember, when nobody else can help, God can.
And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him. Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.

In his statement on Sunday, Patterson wrote about that woman with the black eyes:

Many years ago in West Texas, a woman approached me about the desire of her husband to prevent her attendance in church. He was neither harsh nor physical with her, but she felt abused. I suggested to her that she kneel by the bed at night and pray for him. Because he might hear her prayer, I warned her that he could become angry over this and seek to retaliate. Subsequently, on a Sunday morning, she arrived at church with some evidence of physical abuse. She was very surprised that this had happened. But I had seen her husband come into the church and sit down at the back. I knew that God had changed this man’s heart. What he had done to his wife had brought conviction to his heart. I was happy—not that she had suffered from his anger, but that God had used her to move her husband to conviction of his sin. I knew that she was going to be happy for him also. That morning, he did make his decision for Christ public before the church, and she was ecstatic. They lived happily together from that time on in commitment to Christ. There was no further abuse. In fact, their love for one another and commitment to their home was evident to all. She herself often shared this testimony. For sharing this illustration, especially in the climate of this culture, I was probably unwise. However, my suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ. Rather, I was making the application that God often uses difficult things that happen to us to produce ultimate good. And I will preach that truth until I die.

Turning from Bad Advice

I once recommended sexual orientation change efforts. I don’t now. I actively denounce them now. I don’t pretend that I always opposed them. I regret my former advice and I have written many lines since about 2006 to turn from that bad advice.
Rev. Patterson in his Sunday statement wrote, “my suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ.” As Jacob Denhollander first pointed out on Twitter, that’s not exactly correct. Denhollander said:

No, Mr. Patterson, that’s not true. That’s exactly what you did.

Patterson even warned the woman that her husband “may get a little more violent” before he sent her back into an abusive situation with the advice to pray for him.
If Patterson truly believes women should leave abusive situations then he should decisively turn from his prior position. It isn’t just poor politics to share such stories in “the climate of this culture.” Even if this one story is true (and I would like to hear from that couple), that doesn’t make the advice generally correct or wise.
Patterson says he agrees with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood statement on abuse. If that is true, that is a good thing. He would also do well to recognize that his advice in 2000 and that statement now are incompatible.

Additional information: “I think everybody should own at least one.”

In reading more about Rev. Patterson’s views on women in ministry, I came across a quote that I wanted to check out. See below for the quote about “owning at least one woman.”
According to the May 4, 1997 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, embattled seminary president Paige Patterson answered a question about ordaining women with the following quip:

“I think everybody should own at least one,” Patterson quipped when asked about women.

The article isn’t in digital format (except here) but has been referred to by several bloggers over the years. I looked it up in a newspaper database. Sure enough there it is.
The article was in response to plans by moderate Southern Baptists to start new seminaries in the wake of the conservative take over of convention seminaries. One of the hopes of the moderates was to ordain women. Patterson didn’t agree and expressed himself with what the reporter took to be a joke.

Get Your Manhood On! Stronger Men's Conference Coming Up

Hat tip to Jonathan Merritt on this most bizarre of rituals in evangelical Christianity: The Stronger Men’s Conference.


I liked this response to the video on Twitter:


I like rock & roll, and fast stuff and sports and things but I don’t think those things make “real men” and I certainly don’t understand why they are featured at a conference for “real men.”
As far as cage fighting, I have a word of knowledge for anyone trapped in that cult – Get. Help.
On another promo for the TestosteroneFest, John Gray said God didn’t call men to be domesticated, He called us to have dominion. Take that ladies.

New Study: Trump Support Associated with Christian Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Sentiment

Evangelicals have been a big puzzle since Donald Trump has come on the scene. Why would these moral crusaders fall behind a womanizer who bragged about sexual assault? A new study from sociologists Andrew Whitehead, Joseph Baker and Samuel Perry in a recent edition of the Sociology of Religion journal provides some answers.
The study, which is also summarized by the authors in Monday’s Washington Post, points to a belief in core tenets of Christian nationalism as a major factor associated with Trump support. To assess Christian nationalism, the authors asked participants in the Baylor Religion Survey the following questions:

“The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,”
“The federal government should advocate Christian values,”
“The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state” (reverse coded),
“The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces,”
“The success of the United States is part of God’s plan,” and
“The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”

The authors found that the more a person believed America is or should be a Christian nation, the more likely that person was to vote for Trump. This was true across party affiliation. The image below taken from the study demonstrates that Democrats with Christian nationalist beliefs were three times more likely to vote for Trump than Democrats who didn’t have those beliefs.

Item five above is one which can be interpreted without a Christian nationalist meaning. Christians of many stripes see God as having a general plan which includes the success and failure of nations in it. One need not see America as having a special plan to endorse this item. Otherwise, I think the items assess important components of Christian nationalist beliefs about church and state.

Make America Christian Again

In short, the more you buy into David Barton’s way of looking at history, the more likely you are to be a Trump supporter. Christian nationalist voters reason that Trump will move America toward their vision of a Christian America even if he isn’t personally devout. Once upon a time, Christian leaders told us that character counts in leaders. Now, power is what matters. Trump voters want policies in place which will coerce a Christian consensus — make America Christian again.*
The authors also found that anti-Muslim sentiment related to Trump support. Christian nationalists, such as David Barton, have demonized Islam beyond the historical record and at least one Christian “religious liberty” group denies religion status to Islam.
After reading this study, I feel on the side of the angels by fact checking Christian nationalists historical claims (e.g., Getting Jefferson Right). Christian scholars have a special responsibility to present the facts and withstand the pressure from Christian leaders to corroborate a false Christian nationalist narrative.
 
*The title of the Sociology of Religion article is “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.”
Further reading:
Does Christianity Need Donald Trump’s Help?

Christianity Today Calls for Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries. SGM Leaders Say They Don't Have the Authority

Today, Christianity Today editor-in-chief Mark Galli wrote an op-ed calling on Sovereign Grace Churches to submit to an independent investigation of allegations of covering up past child abuse at associated churches. Here is the gist:

To put it simply: Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries) and its individual churches and leaders who have been accused of failing to adequately respond to past incidents of child and sexual abuse should submit to a thorough, truly independent investigation.

For years, SGM has been fending off allegations of covering up child abuse. In the last couple of months, SGM has been under renewed pressure due to a sustained confrontation from Rachel Denhollander (source, source). Denhollander, the first to make public abuse allegations against Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar, recently made a compelling case on her Facebook page for SGC to launch an independent investigation of the allegations.
Another influence on Galli’s editorializing is a former ministry partner of SGC, Brent Detwiler:

We call for a fresh and thorough independent investigation not because we believe SGC guilty of every one of its critics’ charges. We are as bewildered as anyone and simply don’t have enough information to make a confident judgment on the matter. We see, however, that SGC and some of its individual congregations—and pastor C. J. Mahaney (founder and former president) in particular—are under a cloud of suspicion. A former ministry partner of Mahaney turned critic, Brent Detwiler, has been chronicling the controversy for many years and claims that 100 pastors, 300 small group leaders, 40 churches (including his own), and 12,000 members have left SGC churches largely over what they claim has been abusive and deceitful leadership.

SGC Responds

SGC has already responded to the op-ed. CT gave the denomination a heads up earlier this week which allowed SGC leaders to craft a response for their website. The full response is also below:

Recent public statements have called for Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) to undergo an “independent third-party investigation” of our history and current practices to determine if sexual abuse is being covered up and abusers protected in our churches.
We believe it is the Church’s obligation to lead in any realm related to justice for or protection of any child who has been harmed. Our difficulty is this: the most specific accusations involve allegations made in a civil lawsuit filed in 2012 involving two churches that are no longer part of Sovereign Grace. As to those two churches, we have no authority, no right to their pastoral records, and no access to their internal reports. We, therefore, have neither the right nor the ability to agree to, require, or conduct an investigation of these churches. One of those churches has already performed its own third-party investigation, but SGC has no access to that report or details from that investigation.
Secondly, SGC is a denomination consisting of 72 churches, each of which is individually constituted and governed by its own board of elders. While there is a specific process by which a charge may be submitted against an elder by any current or former SGC church member, SGC leadership has no authority to mandate an investigation by an outside authority upon all of our churches. We are therefore unable to authorize an independent third-party investigation of SGC and its churches.
Clearly any specific allegations of child sexual abuse should be reported to criminal and child protection authorities, regardless of the passage of time. We recognize the critical importance of treating child sexual abuse seriously and its victims with compassion. To this end, SGC has taken specific steps in recent years to better understand and address the risk of child sexual abuse. Since 2014, we have provided the MinistrySafe child safety system to SGC churches free of cost, including training, screening forms, policies, and proactive reporting practices.
To ensure that any survivor of child sexual abuse in our churches feels protected and cared for, we have sought ways to further strengthen our practices. We are exploring the involvement of an organization with expertise and objectivity in dealing with issues of abuse to assist our pastors and elders in this regard. This is intended to help ensure that allegations are reported, cases are handled legally and wisely, and abuse survivors are provided proper care. It is our desire and goal to maintain consistency in all SGC churches where child sexual abuse issues are encountered, and, specifically, to provide compassionate care and support to those who have experienced past sexual abuse.
In sum, we desire to walk transparently, to grow in our ability to better address this risk, and to honor Christ in the way we care for those who have experienced abuse.

Now What?

Sadly, the impasse remains and it is difficult to see how it resolves. Galli ends his op-ed by saying that a fresh investigation is desperately needed for the sake of the victims, the SGC, the integrity of evangelical churches, and the gospel. It is hard to argue with this.

Rachel Denhollander Responds to Sovereign Grace Churches

Because I posted a link to an article from Rachel Denhollander and Sovereign Grace Churches’ response to her, I am posting a link to Denhollander’s extensive reply to SGC. I encourage readers interested in the ongoing saga of Sovereign Grace Churches to read the entire reply from Denhollander. She begins:

I have prayed and considered for nearly three weeks whether to respond to the statement by Sovereign Grace Churches posted on February 13th. This blog post is the most extensive statement by the organization with respect to serious questions that have been outstanding for nearly a decade. However, the response is misleading on several vital points, and leaves many disturbing questions unanswered. Because of this, I have chosen to respond in greater detail and renew my call for Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC, formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM)) to submit to an independent third-party review of how they have handled reports of abuse.
This call does not rise from a sort of Javert-like obsession with SGC, but from the knowledge that evangelical churches are plagued with serious problems related to how we respond to and counsel victims of sexual assault. In fact, experts have stated that both the amount

Rachael Denhollander

of abuse, and the failure to report it, is likely worse than in the Roman Catholic Church – a religious organization often used by evangelicals as a byword for sexual assault scandals. Research bears out the claim these experts make. Because many churches are ideologically committed to the theories that lead them to handle abuse so poorly, many church leaders are very sincere, yet sincerely wrong. Sadly, these leaders and institutions also remain resistant to outside accountability or input. This is a serious problem that damages the gospel and pushes the most vulnerable away from hope and refuge. Addressing this issue is not damaging the Gospel, it is instead seeking to restore the Gospel and Christ to their rightful authority and priority over institutions and mishandled theology.

She continues to call for an independent investigation of the charges against SGC. It is hard to see any problems with this request. If SGC doesn’t trust GRACE then another person or group could surely be secured to do the job.

Billy Graham, Hip Youth Leader

As Billy Graham’s family, friends, and foes are reflecting on his life, many sides of him are being discussed and analyzed. This morning his grandson Boz Tchividjian posted this photo of Graham cutting up in a classroom.


Just before I saw this tweet, historian and former archivist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Jim Lutzweiler sent along the same picture with the back story. Jim said the photo came from “the private collection of Randy Miller, Research librarian at Liberty University.” About the scene, he said:

William Bell Riley was a big name in the 1920s–1940s. He was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis whose members included George Pillsbury of the flour family. Riley built a college for training young people. He came to North Carolina in the early 1920s to fight against evolution in the schools, a controversy that preceded the Scopes Trial in Tennessee. By 1947 Riley was dying. he needed a successor. At that time Billy Graham was a rising star in the movement called Youth for Christ. Youth had always been Riley’s passion. In short, Riley picked Billy Graham to succeed him in the presidency of his school. This was two years before Graham’s famous crusade in Los Angeles. Billy only presided over the school for a couple years before it began to fold and he chose full time evangelism. By the way, one of the students at Northwestern in those days was a Roger Peterson. I knew Roger. He told me that in chapel one day Billy told the students Christ would return prior to 1955, as Christ was to come within 7 years of the rebirth of Israel (i.e., 1948).
The fellow at the lectern in the picture is Richard V. Clearwaters. He had hoped to succeed Riley but Riley did not pick him. So he started Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Seminary from both of which schools I graduated.
The first president of Pillsbury College was a fellow named Monroe Parker. Billy Graham had once told Parker that he, Billy, had converted under Parker’s preaching, not under Mordecai Ham. Parker told us this in chapel and he also published it in his autobiography.

So Clearwaters would have been the first Pillsbury Doughboy (sorry).
Thanks to Jim for the context. He added that Graham wasn’t much older than the students and related to them easily. I wonder if he ever ate any goldfish (you’ll get that if you grew up fundamentalist).

Billy Graham: The Transparent Evangelist

By now, most readers of social media know that Billy Graham passed away today. While he leaves behind many legacies, one seldom noted is his early dedication to financial accountability. In a 2016 Christianity Today article, a story is told of Graham’s conversion to transparency.

In the 1950s, one event solidified Billy Graham’s dedication to financial transparency, according to Grant Wacker, author of America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation
In Graham’s early crusades, he accepted “love offerings” made by the throngs who came to hear him speak. But in 1950, an Atlanta newspaper ran two front-page photos that changed Graham’s mind. One photo depicted “three or four gunny sacks stuffed with greenbacks,” said Wacker. Next to it was a photo of Graham wearing a big smile.
“The implication was that Graham was gloating because he’d just gleaned so much money from the crusade,” said Wacker. “It wasn’t true, but it appeared that way.” It was the beginning of what Wacker called “Billy Graham’s long-running effort to avoid the appearance of evil, as well as evil.”
By 1952, Graham required every ministry salary to be regularized and public. The elder Graham was the first to formalize salary transparency, Wacker said. “I don’t know of any other evangelistic organization that preceded his.”

It is a shame that the ministry that uses his name changed IRS status a couple of years ago and no longer files documentation of donations and expenditures. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is now considered a church. Churches don’t have to file such forms. All this does is shield information and reduce accountability, something that is contrary to Graham’s legacy.
However, today, we should remember that Graham’s principle focus in life was the Gospel. He stood in sharp contrast to “evangelists” such as Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn who brag about their wealth with no accountability or transparency.
Today, BGEA is broadcasting Graham’s sermons and crusades continuously.

Sovereign Grace Churches Posts New Response to Rachael Denhollander (Updated with Reactions)

In a January 31, 2018 Christianity Today article, former gymnast Rachael Denhollander described her experience being the first to make public abuse allegations against Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar. Her brave disclosures led to many more from other women which eventually led to Nassar’s conviction and sentencing for criminal sexual contact.
In the CT article, Denhollander confronted the topic of sexual abuse in the church and specifically raised the controversial case of Sovereign Grace Churches. She didn’t feel supported in her struggle against Nassar by her church because that church was sympathetic to what she believes to be a past cover up of abuse within Sovereign Grace Churches. Denhollander said she and her husband didn’t feel welcome in the church after she expressed concerns about SGM.
In response, SGC posted a blog entry challenging Denhollander’s knowledge of the case.

On January 31, 2018, Sovereign Grace Churches became aware of an article published that same day in Christianity Today. The article is an interview with Rachael Denhollander. Rachael was the first to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, and her testimony was instrumental in drawing attention to the horrific crimes he committed. We thank God for Rachael’s courage in confronting Nassar and commend her invaluable work on behalf of other abuse victims. Like so many, we were impressed by her faithful witness to Christ in such difficult circumstances. At the same time, it needs to be said that she is mistaken in her accusations made against Sovereign Grace Churches and C.J. Mahaney. The Christianity Today article publicly mischaracterizes Sovereign Grace and C.J. based on accusations of which Rachael had no involvement and which are not true and have never been true. It’s extremely difficult to respond to false accusations without appearing unsympathetic to victims of abuse. It is our sincere hope that this brief statement has done both by speaking truthfully, respectfully and in a way that honors God.

Then, on February 5, Denhollander posted a response to SGC. In it, she issued a challenged to the organization to allow an independent organization, GRACE, to do an independent investigation of the allegations:

I am asking SGC to support their recent claim that I am making “false accusation”, “mischaracterizing” and communicating things that “are not true and have never been true”, and instead show true care for the victims by finally dealing transparently with these concerns, through taking one specific step:
Allowing GRACE, an Christian organization whose expertise is sexual assault and institutional dynamics, to do a thorough independent investigation of the organization’s historical and current handling of abuse complaints, which will be released to the public.

SGC Responds

This evening, Sovereign Grace Churches posted a lengthy and detailed response to Denhollander’s request for an investigation by GRACE. In addition to a denial of the bulk of Denhollander’s allegations, the church organization flatly rejected her request.

Rachael calls for a “fair, independent” investigation into SGC led by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) because of the organization’s supposed neutrality. However, Boz Tchividjian, the leader of GRACE, has on multiple occasions written and spoken publicly in ways that suggest he has already prejudged the case against SGC. He has publicly indicted the motives of SGC as it relates to those allegations, and he has publicly criticized others who have expressed any support for SGC.

The rest of the statement takes on some of the points raised by Denhollander as well as others which she did not raise. It also refers to an independent investigation secured by Covenant Life Church. Covenant Life is no longer affiliated with SGC. However, this report has not been released to the public and remains mysterious.
Essentially, the statement from SGM denies a cover up of abuse. Although the church leadership team acknowledges “in hindsight that there were grave errors in judgment, and the abuse should have been reported regardless of the circumstances or a victim’s wishes,” they deny protecting abusers through a policy of not reporting abuse. Furthermore, the organization expressed regret over past mistakes and claimed to have improved their processes for handling allegations in the present.
I reached out to Rachel Denhollander for comment. On her behalf, her husband Jacob said she would respond to this new statement after a careful review. Later, Jacob Denhollander posted this tweet:


Other Twitter reactions to SGM’s statement range from approval to scathing criticism.