Blog Theme: Gospel for Asia – Interview with J.D. Smith

My first post about Gospel for Asia was published April 27, 2015. Here is what I wrote to introduce the organization:

GFA LOGOGospel for Asia is a large missionary organization which supports direct evangelism, child sponsorships, Bible colleges, education, disaster relief and several other ministries. Their assets are substantial but, at their request, I am not going to address how much money they take in.* The 990s are not available on Guidestar and so it is very difficult to find out specific information about the financial situation.

GFA describes itself as a missionary organization and a church. What GFA calls The Believer’s Church is based in Wills Point, TX and apparently consists of the various churches planted around the world. According to the church website, the church has “over 2.4 million members scattered throughout 14 nations.”

Actually, Believers’ Church is based in India and is also headed up by Metropolitan K.P. Yohannan – GFA’s founder and CEO – who also goes by Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan Metropolitan. If we were buddies, I would just call him “Yo.”

My interest in GFA was triggered by a reader, Mr. Jesperson, who was once a donor. Then Bruce Morrison came along who is a Canadian pastor and a key player in confronting the discrepancies in what GFA said on paper in Canada and what they reported in India. Auditor Jason Watkins provided his expertise to help make clear the discrepancies in U.S. financial statements and other records we secured. I have talked to numerous former American and Indian staffers who have helped to paint a picture of GFA. Since 2015, I have written hundreds of posts on GFA’s finances and practices in the U.S. and around the world.

In early October 2015, Gospel for Asia was evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. GFA was a charter member and it was a rare move for the ECFA. To get a description of the reasons for the removal, you can read the ECFA preliminary report given to me by former GFA board member Gayle Erwin.

In 2017, the nation of India revoked GFA and Believers’ Church registration as a charity eligible to receive foreign donations. GFA still solicits money for use in India and still sends funds there to NGOs that have no purpose other than to funnel money to Believers’ Church.

In 2019, GFA settled a class action RICO lawsuit and agreed to pay $37-million to donors. The Canadian branch is currently being sued by a donors in Nova Scotia.

Much of my writing on GFA has related to financial practices. However, there is a human side to the story. This is what got me started and this is what former staffer J.D. Smith focuses on in today’s interview. If you are interested in group dynamics and how leaders hold members with controlling tactics, you will want to hear J.D. speak.

To watch all interviews in this “15 Years of Blogging” series, click here.

To read all posts relating to Gospel for Asia, click here.

To read more about controlling groups and Steven Hassan’s work mentioned by J.D., go to freedomofmind.com.

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some excerpts of part one:

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

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

Coming Soon: Interview with Mark Yarhouse

On Tuesday July 21, I will publish an interview with Mark Yarhouse, professor at Wheaton College. Mark and I are authors of the sexual identity therapy framework which became an alternative for religious gay clients.

Mark and I will discuss the history of our work together going back to our opposition to a ban on reorientation therapy to our focus on sexual identity therapy. We also talk about Mark’s more recent work in gender identity.

I asked Mark about a relatively new group on the scene helping people navigate sexual identity concerns – Revoice. In that context, he described research into the effects of celibacy. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.

I hope you will revisit the blog on Tuesday to catch the full interview with Mark.

You can see all posts about these interviews by clicking this link.

Also subscribe to my Psychvideos Youtube channel where I am posting them.

Blog Theme: Trumpism – Interview with Greg Thornbury

A feature of the evangelical world since Trump was nominated and elected has been the inability of many of Trump’s evangelical supporters to see Trump’s flaws. John Fea (who will be one of my guests in a future interview) coined the term “court evangelical” to describe these evangelical leaders. Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell are often named among these court evangelicals. Another evangelical figure which has puzzled many observers due to the strength of his dedication to Trump is Eric Metaxas.

I have written several articles about Metaxas’ historical claims, notably his book If You Can Keep It.  His errors are similar to David Barton’s which is understandable once you learn that Metaxas thinks Barton is a credible historian. Perhaps the most popular blog posts about Metaxas’ approach to history are the ones where I attempt to track down the source of this quote:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

Metaxas once attributed the quote to Dietrich Bonhoeffer but it doesn’t appear in any of his works or speeches. Instead of acknowledging this and making a public correction, Metaxas has just stopped attributing the quote to Bonhoeffer. Consequently, hundreds, if not thousands of people continue to cite Metaxas as the source of a bogus Bonhoeffer quote.

In our interview, Thornbury analyzes Metaxas, but that is not the most riveting part to me. When Greg describes his journey from evangelical college president to where he is now, I believe many evangelicals will relate. There has been pressure to adopt Trumpism as an evangelical and those who don’t go along lose social capital in that world. Students of American religious and political history will be interested in hearing about Greg’s experience. Greg was in the inner circle and describes what it was like to see conservative Christians first tolerate then venerate an unworthy President.

Trumpism is the newest theme in my 15 years of blogging but in a way it is an extension of many themes I am familiar with. The narcissism of celebrity pastors, the false history of Christian nationalism, the anti-science dogmatism of many evangelical leaders, and the single-mindedness and bias of culture warring all come together in Trumpism.

So as a new friend in this struggle, I thank Greg for his time and talents.

Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D., has been a college philosophy and theology professor, dean, and president of The King’s College in New York City. In addition to several books on theology and culture, he is the author of Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock (Random House, 2018) – a critically acclaimed biography that has been reviewed by The New York TimesThe New Yorker, National Public Radio, and was awarded as the most influential book in arts and culture by Christianity Today for 2019. A popular writer and speaker on philosophy, religion, and the arts, he currently serves as Senior Vice President at the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca, founded by Andy Warhol. He is also a consultant for Good Country Pictures, who is currently working on film adaptations of the short stories and novels of Willa Cather, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor for film and television.

You can see all posts about these interviews by clicking this link.

Also subscribe to my Psychvideos Youtube channel where I am posting them.

What Happened to Eric Metaxas? We May Finally Find Out!

Tomorrow, I will post an interview with former King’s College president Gregory Thornbury. Thornbury who is friends with Eric Metaxas offers a theory about why Metaxas has turned into a Trumpist. Watch:

Come back tomorrow to wthrockmorton.com for the rest of the interview with Greg. We take on Trumpism, Christian celebrity, and court evangelicals. It is a revealing and fascinating interview.

UPDATE: To see the interview, click the link.

You can see all posts about these interviews by clicking this link.

Also subscribe to my Psychvideos Youtube channel where I am posting them.

Blog Theme: Civil Rights and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill – Interview with Jeff Sharlet

Interview with author Jeff Sharlet

In this interview, we discuss our shared recollections of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, the Netflix documentary The Family, liberty of conscience, and evangelicals in relationship to Donald Trump.

This is second in a series of interviews marking 15 years of blogging. I started blogging in July 2005. The first interview with Michael Coulter is here.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

On March 2, 2009 I posted a article about an ex-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Three Americans, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge, had been invited by Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network to speak on the topic of homosexuality. Scott Lively told the crowd that gays were behind the Nazi takeover of Germany and subsequent Holocaust. Don Schmierer told them that homosexuals were disturbed by poor parenting and that they needed therapy, and Caleb Brundidge, a client of reparative therapist Richard Cohen was there to show that the ex-gay therapy worked.

That was the first of hundreds of articles about Uganda and the effort of that nation’s Parliament to make homosexuality a capital offense (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009). I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that Box Turtle Bulletin and this blog became key thorns in the side of Ugandan and American proponents of the bill. Jim Burroway and I (incidentally both originally from Portsmouth, OH) wrote nearly every day about some aspect of the bill and kept the story alive.

Because of my strong opposition to the bill and the kindness of Bob Hunter (as well as other Fellowship members), I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010. There, I interviewed Fellowship Foundation leader Doug Coe. That was one of a handful of interviews he granted over the course of his life. A summary of it was published in Christianity Today later that year. Coe put the Fellowship on record as opposing the bill in Uganda.

When the Ugandan members of the Prayer Breakfast movement learned of American opposition, they felt betrayed by Coe and the Americans. They persisted with their efforts to pass the bill. As Jeff and I discuss in the interview above, the Ugandan members seemed to believe American evangelicals were afraid to really speak their minds. The Ugandan proponents of the bill seemed convinced that American Christians really supported their efforts, and it was their Christian duty to set a tone the world could follow.

Despite the Ugandan’s belief, I don’t believe the American Fellowship supported the bill. At the time (December, 2009), Jeff wrote a guest post for my blog which outlined his belief that the American Fellowship opposed it. In my rare interview with Doug Coe, he made it clear that he and the Fellowship opposed the bill and criminalization for homosexuality anywhere. Furthermore, at the National Prayer Breakfast, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke directly to the Ugandan people and by name opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I don’t think the opposition could get any clearer than that.

I was in the African suite watching Obama’s and Clinton’s speeches on television when they condemned the bill at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. It was silent in the suite as the African delegation watched. Afterwards, some were stunned, some were angry. Some still believed that some Americans had to say those things in public, but may privately support them. However, they could not deny that the American Fellowship opposed the bill.

Through years of parliamentary maneuvering, the bill moved and then stalled. Sessions ended without action, but finally it passed at the end of 2013 session. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni proclaimed that he would not sign the bill if scientists could convince him that being gay was innate. He claimed to want to know if being gay was a choice.

At that point, at the request of others lobbying against the bill, Jack Drescher and I wrote a letter summarizing the research on sexual orientation in layman’s terms. The letter was signed by over 200 scholars and researchers from all over the world. Museveni acknowledge the effort but also convened his own panel of “experts.” They returned a letter which allowed him to sign the bill.

In August 2014, the bill was struck down as unconstitutional by Uganda’s Constitutional court due to the fact that the Parliament did not have a quorum in place when the bill was passed. A five year story of ups and downs came to an end with that decision.

Jeff Sharlet

Jeff and I became friends as we compared notes over what American interests and influences might be at work in this Ugandan mess. As I noted in the interview, he went to Uganda on one occasion (I think he asked me to go along but I can’t be sure of my recollection on that). His report of that trip was a lengthy write up in Harper’s.

In the interview, we discussed the background of the Netflix documentary, The Family. I had the good fortune to be included in three of the five episodes of that series.

Jeff has an inspiring sense of fairness and is a captivating writer. I don’t know of anyone outside of Uganda who worked harder to expose the truth relating to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill than Jeff. I am grateful and humbled by the kind and overly generous remarks from him in this interview. Thanks to Jeff for doing it. I hope you benefit from our discussion as much as I did.

Additional Reading

Scientific Consensus Statement

History of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill – NPR

My Salon series about a Nevada church who dropped support of a Uganda missionary over the bill

Straight Man’s Burden – Harpers

The Bill Inspired by American Evangelicals – The Atlantic

All of my posts about Uganda

All of my post about the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) and the National Prayer Breakfast

All 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

 

Image: Jeff Sharlet’s Twitter Page

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with Michael Coulter

Fact checking David Barton was not my first history rodeo. With the help of then Grove City College history professor J.D. Wyneken, I fact checked anti-gay crusader Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika in June of 2009. Lively made an outrageous case that Hitler’s Nazi project was animated by homosexuals and that the Holocaust was carried out by gay thugs. His opposition to gay rights, he preached, was to keep gays from doing the same things to other nations.

I learned a lot by deeply researching Lively’s claims. I saw how primary sources could be used selectively to distort a narrative and how speculation could be mixed with fact to create a plausible sounding but false picture. This awareness came in handy when, in 2011, I started to look into Barton’s claims about the American founding.

When David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, he solicited moral support from Scott Lively in a Wallbuilders Live broadcast. Lively’s message essentially was: I know how you feel, he did the same thing to me.

It seems right that I fact checked both Lively and Barton. Lively had gone to Uganda with his historical fiction to agitate the Uganda Parliament into crafting law which made homosexuality a capital offense. An interpretation of the Bible was used as a justification. A religious view was used as a basis for civil law. On that issue, one church teaching was about to become the state policy.

Confronted with the reality that evangelical Christians were behind the bill in Uganda, I searched for the influences on them. There were many and we will hear from Jeff Sharlet next week who will help us remember the influence of the Fellowship Foundation. Extending beyond the Fellowship was the notion that civil policy should reflect Christianity because that is the proper basis for law in a Christian nation. Ugandan legislators saw themselves as lawmakers in a Christian nation.

But who in the U.S. was behind the idea that church and state is not separate? All roads led me back to David Barton.  At that point, I started to check out the fact claims that Barton said led him to question church-state separation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Part of that history involved writing the book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Check Claim about Our Third President My co-author on that project is Michael Coulter. Michael is a professor of political science and humanities at Grove City College and a good friend. As we discuss in the interview below, I requested a pre-publication copy of The Jefferson Lies in February 2012. Somewhere in our McDonalds discussions, I asked Michael to join me as co-author and we had the ebook ready to go by May 1. A paperback followed in July and by August, The Jefferson Lies had been pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson.

In this interview, we discuss more about Getting Jefferson Right, but also get into why people would rather believe fiction over truth, the requirement of honesty from scholars, and how Christian nationalism influences attitudes towards political matters today. I hope you profit from it.

View all 15 Years of Blogging Interviews