2 Samuel 16:9,11 - "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head...let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him."

Matthew 7:15 - “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Matthew 24:11 - “…and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Guthrie of SBC Today Defends Caner by Going on the Attack

Tim Guthrie of the SBC Today Blog has posted a defense of Ergun Caner in response to the new allegations that came to light yesterday on this blog: namely that Caner claimed in front of FBC Jax in November 2001 that he was in the "Islamic Youth Jihad" before coming to America, and that he was "trained to do that which was done on 11 September". Sorry, Tim, those aren't old allegations, those are brand new. This blog site yesterday provided hard evidence that Caner came to the states as a 4-year old and never left the country.

Guthrie's blog post really isn't a defense, but an ad-hominem attack, that is worse than any of the things said about Caner.

Guthrie doesn't deal with ONE SINGLE legitimate issue that is raised about Caner's fibs about his past, just says they are old and "nothing new".

Guthrie resorts to the old ad-hominem attacks that we are used to. Instead of addressing these documented, legitimate issues, he instead calles myself, James White, and Mohammad "minions" over and over. He lashes out at James White, attacking his degrees and his "false doctrine". He condemns Mohammad to hell dismissing anything he says because he is not a Christian.

Unbelievably, Guthrie complains about bloggers' vitriol during this holy week of Easter, yet he outdoes Caner's critics by dishing out a bigger dose of vitriol and venom himself, without addressing the underlying issues.

Guthrie says that in time Jesus will come and reveal our deeds and bring shame to us, and that our day is coming for blogging about Caner's misdeeds.

No, Tim, perhaps before Jesus comes, I think you will be embarrassed for your attacks, and for your lack of integrity in defending that which is defenseless by going on the attack. I am one who believes the trustees at Liberty University are watching the traffic on the Internet, and know that their seminary's reputation is on the line until they deal with Caner's past.

I am hopeful they will deal with it. And I hold out hope that Emir will soon chime in. As best I can tell, Emir has never engaged in the exaggerations of his brother when sharing his testimony.

Then, Tim, you can blog about THEM, and attack them for doing what YOU should have done as a peer of Caner's: hold him accountable for his exaggerations and misrepresentations that reflect poorly on YOU and your fellow SBC preachers.

Happy Easter, Tim, from the "minion" Watchdog.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ergun Caner, 2001 FBC Jax Sermon: "I Was in Islamic Youth Jihad"

******* Update ********

Below is a site up that has documentation as to the timeline of Caner's arrival in the states. Indeed, according to this documentation, Caner did come here at age 4, not at age 15 as he told us...making it impossible to be "raised in Europe" as he told us, and very improbable that he was in the "Islamic Youth Jihad" or that he was "trained to do that which was done on 11 September". See for yourself:

Ergun, those of us at FBC Jax trusted you and believed you. Can you please clarify why it seems you lied to us on November 20, 2001?

One of the most disturbing events as a member at FBC Jax under Mac Brunson was when on a Sunday night in the summer of 2008 Brunson misrepresented the testimony of Sheri Klouda concerning her lawsuit against SWBTS and Paige Patterson. Never before had I heard a preacher in a pulpit in his sermon say something hurtful and untrue about a person - made all the worse in that Klouda was one of his sheep when he was pastor at FBC Dallas.

I blogged about Brunson's Klouda comments that month in 2008, in an attempt to hold him accountable and posted a response from Sheri Klouda herself, just a few days later. It was my hope that Mac Brunson would apologize to his congregation and to Klouda for saying what he did, misrepresenting her testimony about the scriptural validity of her lawsuit.

Unfortunately, this is something that we as Christians need to be on guard for in this day of celebrity preachers. That is preachers who might use the "sacred desk" to harm someone they don't like, to speak half-truths to defend their own actions, or to offer up a personal favor to a friend, to intimidate their critics, or to exaggerate claims about themselves to aid in the creation of their celebrity status - or maybe even to convince people to give money to a certain project. Mega church pastors have quite a bit at stake, and their word is golden amongst their followers, so the temptation is always there. We know that mega church pastors use marketers to help create their "brand", so its not beyond belief that a pastor will be tempted to exaggerate or even outright lie to exert their will. Sad, but true.

For example, I was present at FBC Jax when Darrel Gilyard was unveiled in the late 1980s as the new, great, young black preacher who grew up homeless under a bridge and that God miraculously called into ministry. It was a lie, he never was homeless and never lived under a bridge. But early on, why would Gilyard tell a lie like this to Christians he is preaching to?

The Brunson slap at Klouda, and the Gilyard lie about his background, caused me to be a bit concerned when earlier this year I learned that there was some controversy on the Internet brewing over some of Ergun Caner's stories about his background as a "former devout Muslim". A Muslim named "Mohammad" has a website and a series of YouTube videos where he presents evidence of Caner's contradictions - which include his place of birth, debates he has had, and even supposed "jibberish" Caner has uttered during sermons. Also, James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has written about Caner's inconsistencies (including Caner's claims of debating Shabir Ally), as has Debbie Kaufman at her blog.

This had me intrigued. Being an FBC Jax member in 2001 when Caner first came to FBC Jax to preach, recently I decided to go back and listen again to the sermon delivered to FBC Jax by Ergun Caner on November 20, 2001. I was there for that service, with my family. This was the introduction of Caner to the SBC "big time" - it was after 9/11, and Jerry Vines brought Caner in as an expert of sorts, the former Muslim who could speak to us about Islam as we were still shell-shocked from the events of 9/11.

Sad to say, after listening to Caner's sermon, there are more contradictions. Caner has some explaining to do to the good people of FBC Jax.

Caner made this claim in the sermon that day:

"May I submit to you, until I was 15 years old, I was in the Islamic Youth Jihad. And so until I came to America, until I found Jesus Christ as Lord, I was trained to do that which was done on 11 September."

Wow. So Caner was "trained" to be a terrorist? He was in the youth jihadist movement? This is strange. Earlier in the sermon he said he was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and "raised in Europe". That, together with the above, would lead listeners to think the first fifteen years of his life he was training to be a terrorist overseas, in some sort of militant Islamic youth camp, until he came to America at age 15.

But there's a problem with that.

In Caner's book, "Unveiling Islam", co-authored with his brother Emir, they write, speaking of their parents:

"After falling in love, getting married, and having their first two sons, Ergun and Erdem, in Stockholm, Father and Mother moved to America, the land of opportunity. Emir was born after we arrived in Ohio."

Did you catch that? They moved to America, THEN Emir was born. But Emir was born in August 1970, so some time prior to that, was when Caner emigrated from Sweden.

As best I can tell, Ergun was born in 1966. That would mean Ergun was 4 years old when he came to America. But Ergun told FBC Jax members he was "raised in Europe" (while rolling his r's and sounding as though he has some middle eastern dialect).

If he was 4 years old when he moved to Columbus, Ohio, how was he in the "Islamic Youth Jihad"? Where was he receiving this "training" to do a 9/11 style attack? Is he claiming that the mosque his father took him to was training young boys to be terrorists? I don't get it. But I can tell you, I was there with my family that day, and hearing this sermon again reminded me that indeed - when Caner came, I thought we had just heard a former Islamic terrorist based on his story. That was the intended portrait that Caner painted of himself that day to a packed house at FBC Jacksonville.

Its interesting that even his bio at the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary Website says: "Ergun was born in Stockholm, Sweden to Turkish parents and in 1979 immigrated to the United States with his parents, grandmother, and two brothers."

So when did he come? I tend to believe the book that he coauthored with his brother would be the more reliable, truthful source. So why does his bio say he didn't arrive until 1979, but his book implies he came at age 4?

Another issue to be explained: in the FBC Jax sermon, he makes the following claim, speaking of the friend that led him to Christ:

"...He didn't care that I spoke a different language and that my English was poor. He didn't care the fact that I looked differently or sounded differently or ate different foods than him...they didn't look at me because I was different....they didn't call me 'towel head' or 'sand nigger'. That's what I got outside the church."

That's strange. Assuming his book is true and he came to the states when he was 4, how would his English be "poor", some 12 years after he came to the states? He says he spoke a "different language"? What different language did he speak, if he grew up in Ohio since the age of 4? I grew up in Indiana, just a few hours away from Columbus, and I'm pretty sure the primary language we spoke in the Midwest was English. And why would he be called a "sand nigger"? By his own admission he was born in Sweden and moved to Ohio. What sand did he come from?

Look, I like Ergun Caner. He is a gifted speaker and Christian apologist. I like to listen to his sermons. He no doubt has a great ministry at Liberty with youth, and I mean him no harm with this post. But he really needs to explain these contradictions, and stop with the exaggerations about his past. Those in authority over him need to hold him accountable in this regard. What a great example he would be to other preachers if he would be totally honest and transparent about these exaggerations.

James White says about Caner: "I believe Ergun Caner has a very bad habit of "padding the truth" as he speaks. He gets into the moment and, to add weight, or gravitas, to his presentation, makes claims that are simply untrue."

Let me close with a similar, secular example from my days in Gainesville, Florida:

This whole matter reminds me of a very talented police chief in Gainesville, Florida in the 1980's and 1990's. His name was Waylon Clifton, and he was very much loved my most of Gainesville. He was tough on crime in a very liberal-minded community and most people liked the job he did in protecting us. He was handsome, and had the "Sylvester Stallone" look about him. He was our police chief during the Gainesville murders in 1990, one of the most frightening periods in my life. Clifton was destined for greater things politically, perhaps as the sheriff of Alachua County, and he even toyed with the thought of running for an elected political office.

But Clifton had a serious character flaw that did him in. Most every time he spoke to groups, he talked about his days playing football at the University of Alabama under Bear Bryant. But when someone bothered to do a little bit of research, they found he never, ever played football for Bear Bryant. It was all made up. He spoke of it often, in great detail, but it was all a figment of his imagination - a story made up to embellish his past, to make him seem even more wonderful than he was.

When Clifton learned this was going to present a problem for him, instead of apologizing and coming clean, he doctored an old news article in an attempt to make up proof that he did play at Alabama. He resigned soon after, and I never heard what happened to him after he left Gainesville.

So I hope that Caner does explain these apparent contradictions about his past. They are not insurmountable. He just needs to explain them, apologize if he stretched the truth, and move on. He apologized recently for some hurtful words spoken about Jerry Rankin, so we know he has it in him.

And I hope his supporters don't come here to attack me like they have done to Mohammad and Debbie Kaufman. But I am expecting the worst in that regard.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"The Crystal Campus" - How Does One Know If It's God's Will?

As we begin our look at the proposed FBC Dallas $140 million dollar campus overhaul, which I affectionately call the "Crystal Campus" - after Robert Schuller's "Crystal Cathedral" - we will first consider the question:

How does a Christian know that building such a grand, glorious structure is the will of God for FBC Dallas? Is it possible that God in heaven is actually leading them to do this, and this is what God intends for their congregation to spend their time and treasure on? If so, how would one know that it is? How would one know that it is NOT?

For those of us not members, it might not be a question we have to concern ourselves with. Some have said this blogger should mind his own business. There is an element of truth to that - after all, it's not our money that will build it, and it's not our city. However, it is instructive to consider what the FBC Dallas members are BEING TOLD as to why this IS God's will. What is their pastor telling THEM, and does it square with the Bible, and with what other SBC churches have done in the past?

So, just what is Robert Jeffress telling his church? How would his church know that this is the will of God? It might be the will of God, and it might not be. So how can they tell? Below is an excerpt from a sermon on criticism that Jeffress preached in February:

Jeffress uses the following logical argument:

"Let's say for sake of argument, there really is a God, OK? Just for sake of argument...and let's suppose that God has a plan for First Baptist Church Dallas. Do you believe God has a plan for this church? I mean if there really is a God who creates, it means there's a God who has a plan....and let's just imagine 4 or 5 years ago part of His plan for this church included the building of that Criswell Center that we enjoy today. Now how would God go about making that building a reality?"

Jeffress then discusses several options, including God just making the building appear. But now he gives the church the template for how God does these sort of projects. I'm not sure this is found in scripture, however:

"Doesn't it make sense that if God wanted to do that [build the $40 million Criswell Center] God would first of all speak to the shepherd of the church, Dr. Brunson, and put it in his heart, give him a vision for what God wanted to do here. And then he would work with Doug and his committee to plan and design this building, and then he would work in your hearts to give and support that vision. That's how God does his work."

"That's how God does his work", so says Jeffress. Jeffress puts forth the plan God has: 1. God tells the Pastor about the huge building project; 2. The pastor works with the architects and planners; 3. God then tells the people to give the money. Jeffress uses Brunson's Criswell Center as an example of how this has worked in the past. Fine, but this plan didn't work. Because apparently God did NOT work in the hearts of the people to support that vision, because the church still owes $10 million dollars on that project.

Jeffress continues:

"And let's continue, and suppose God continues to have a plan for this church. Do you think God has a plan, continued for First Baptist Church Dallas? I think He does. I don't think it's God's plan for this church to fall into decay and obscurity and irrelevancy in the city of Dallas. I think God's plan for this church to continue to be a lighthouse for His truth, to lift up the name of Christ in this city and in this world. And let's say that that really is God's plan, and part of that plan means creating this new campus, so that future generations can enjoy what we've enjoyed in these present generations."

Sounds good, but I am not sold that creating a $140 million campus is what is needed to keep a church from being "obscure" and "irrelevant", and certainly its not needed to "lift up the name of Christ." I remember when Mac Brunson was selling FBC Jax on the idea of a school, he kept telling us that it absolutely was necessary to build a school for the church to reach the lost of Jacksonville. He even said that "knocking on doors" doesn't work anymore, because no one is home anymore, and thus a school was necessary. A school might be a good idea, it might not be. But don't sell it on a false premise. And by the way, I see that Mac has changed his mind on the "knocking on doors", as their church is having a city-wide door-knocking blitz to invite people to church this week.

Same with this "Crystal Campus"...it MIGHT be a good idea, might even be God's will. But is it really NECESSARY to accomplish God's will in the church? If they do not build it, will the church "fall ito decay and obscurity and irrelevancy?"

Now Jeffress wraps it up:

"Doesn't it make sense that if per chance, that were God's plan, He would speak to the shepherd of the church [Jeffress] and give him that vision for what to do in His church. That He would move in the hearts of the people to rise up and support that work?"

So the answer is: God spoke to me, the shepherd, and I worked with Doug (whoever Doug is) and the planners, and now its time for you all to allow God to work in your hearts and "support" (meaning give money) to make the new campus a reality.

Let's suppose, per chance, God didn't want a church to do something, but the pastor got it wrong, and led them into a project that was not His will. That is possible, for sure. How would the people know?

Let's look no further than their Criswell building. This was a $40 million dollar project, and the people were told the vision by Brunson. There was some opposition to it, as it included the demolition of a building that some considered historical. Some opposed it because they were worried about incurring debt to build it. These objections were overcome, and they built it based on pledges and cost proposals, and people were told it would be built debt free.

Did the three step plan work?

1. God spoke to Brunson and gave him the vision;

2. Brunson worked with Doug (whoever Doug is) and the planners;

3. God worked in the hearts of the people to support the vision.

Steps 1 and 2 worked, but I submit step 3 didn't work. The project was sold to the church as a project that would be paid for by pledges made.

But today, FBC Dallas still owes $8.7 million on the Criswell Building. God apparently didn't tell the people at Dallas that this was God's will, else they would have given the money, right? I mean, if this is how God does His work, as Jeffress said, why didn't God complete step 3?

I can tell you how First Baptist Church Jacksonville did it. They did steps 1 through 3. But there was a 4th step, that most pastors today don't like to consider:

Step 4: When God works in the hearts of people to support the vision, and when the money is given, then we are pretty sure its God's will and that God DID speak to the shepherd and we'll build it.

When the money was in hand, they built it. I'm not saying that this is the only way to build, or that no debt should ever be incurred. I'm just saying that is how Homer Lindsay, Jr. did it. And let me tell you something: he could have told us to build it BEFORE we had the money in hand, and everyone would have said "Amen". But he didn't do it. We knew God was in it when we had the money in hand, and they did not go into debt to build the Ruth Lindsay in the 1970s, or the new auditorium in the 1990's, or the Children's Building and Pastor's Suite in the 2000's. Cash money. Our Pastor's never said: "Give a million in two weeks", and they never made light of our of our debt-free status we maintained for decades. Our pastors knew that debt would siphon off money that could be used for ministry and put it in the hands of the bankers.

I think its a pretty good sign that God is in something, when the people of God have given the money for a project. That confirms that it is NOT just a pipe-dream of a pastor, but that perhaps the Holy Spirit worked in people's hearts to cause them to open their wallets.

FBC Jax knew that it's cash that builds buildings, not pledges. Pledges are good, but show the pastor the money if you want to build it.

FBCD right now not only doesn't have the money, they are in the hole to start with. FBC Dallas has not only $8.7 million in debt from the Criswell Center - now almost 4 years since they've moved in - but on top of that they have another $6.8 million from a land acquisition in the last few years downtown needed for the expansion, and add to that another $4.1 million in debt from the engineering and planning for the current proposed project, and they are in the hole almost $20 million dollars right now. And about half-way through their fiscal year their giving is about 10% below the budgeted amount.

But they're being told to avoid falling into irrelevancy and obscurity, they need to build a $140 million dollar campus.

And they have to do it NOW, while the construction prices are low, in this "narrow window of opportunity."

So that is, in general terms, what the people are begin told about why the "Crystal Campus" is God's will for their church.

Next, we'll look more closely at the particulars of this project, and how it was that God told the shepherd, Jeffress, that this project was indeed the direction for FBC Dallas.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hypocrisy in the SBC Over Female Pastors

"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Ti 1:11-12)

"The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." (1 Cor 14:34-35)

The Georgia Baptist Convention very soon will disfellowship another church for the terrible "sin" of calling a woman pastor. This time it's Druid Hills Baptist Church (DHBC) in Atlanta, as they recently voted to appoint the pastor's wife, Mimi Walker, to the position of co-pastor along side her husband, Graham Walker (both at left). The ABP reports that a GBC meeting will occur in Albany, Georgia this fall to vote to give GBC the right boot of (dis)fellowship.

Last year the GBC disfellowshipped the First Baptist Church of Decatur for hiring Julie Pennington-Russell as their pastor.

Most of the banter on the Internet over the Decator and Druid Hills matters has been about church autonomy - that is, whether a state baptist organization should be involved in disfellowshipping a church for exercising their right to hire a female pastor. Certainly some believe hiring a female pastor to be contrary to scripture, but it is not a primary doctrinal matter. Neither Pennington nor Walker are in "sin", they are exercising their God-given gifts to minister as appointed by their church congregations. If their churches want to call women pastors, so be it. Plenty of SBC churches ordain women deacons, while many conservative churches would never do that. And the scripture quoted above could be used for this justification - its pretty clear - women should be quiet in church, not speak, and should ask their husbands if they have a question...or do I need to understand the Greek to interpret that?

It is clear: neither Druid Hills Baptist Church, or the most conservative SBC church abides by the very clear scripture that women should keep their mouths shut and direct all questions to their hubbies. Women speak in church. They hold leadership positions. They teach Sunday School classes. They are "directors" on staff. How can this be, given that very clear scripture? Because, obviously, they all interpret that scripture to mean something different than how it actually reads.

I'm not arguing either side on women pastors. I'm saying that there is no uniform agreement amongst SBC churches as to what scripture means on the role of women in the church. Some ordain women deacons, some do not. Some allow women to teach co-ed Sunday School classes, some do not. Some churches hire full time staffers that give them supervisory responsibility over paid male staffers and lay persons, while some churches do not.

And Druid Hills Baptist Church believes they are within the bounds of their interpretation of scripture to hire a female co-pastor. Before the typical cast of (male) characters comes here and blasts this as an "antimoniam" blog, I would ask them if in their churches they are abiding by 1 Tim 1:11-12 and 1 Cor 14:34-35. No, they are not, and their wives wouldn't stand for it, nor would any women in their churches, and they have interpreted those scriptures to mean something other than what the scripture says. I'm ok with that, until they start calling for the disfellowshipping of a church that inteprets that scripture different from THEIR interpretation.

But what sickens me even more than that this intolerance over tertiary doctrinal matters, is the hypocrisy in disfellowshipping a church whose congregation calls a co pastor, while other churches who have defacto female "co pastors" go untouched. I maintain that Druid Hills has done what many baptist churches have already done, in hiring and paying the pastor's wife as a "co pastor".

Two examples: Mac and Debbie Brunson at First Baptist of Jacksonville, and Ed and Lisa Young at Fellowship Church in Fort Worth.

First, Debbie Brunson: It can be argued that Debbie Brunson is a co-pastor of FBC Jacksonville with her husband, Mac Brunson. Sure, she is not called a "co pastor", but she occupies office space in the pastor's lavish pastor suite. She is not a secretary, as the Brunson's have a pastoral secretary in the pastor's suite with them. If she is NOT the co-pastor, whatever position she DOES hold is not clear as her position has not been posted anywhere on the website. This is not meant as a criticism of Mac and Debbie - I'm merely pointing out that they minister together, she was hired by Mac, and it can be argued that she serves as a de facto female co pastor. Also: Debbie Brunson has recorded several TV commercials - one with Mac and one with the women's ministry director at FBC Jax - so both she and Mac are the face of FBC Jax in the community, further evidence of her role as co-pastor. I'm told she participates in staff meetings, and is very involved as a leader at the church in staffing decisions. I'm also told her salary is very generous, more than the average SBC pastor even. Mac himself admits that women are "more sensitive to the Holy Spirit" than men, and to his credit Mac understands the value of his wife assisting him in ministry.

In my opinion, Debbie Brunson is a de facto co-pastor with her husband.

But the difference is Druid Hills dared to make their co-pastor official. They dared to vote on it OFFICIALLY and announce that they have a female co-pastor. They dared to allow the church to VOTE on hiring her. For some reason, FBC Jax doesn't officially tell anyone what Deb Brunson's position is in the church.

Next, Lisa Young: while she is not called a "co pastor" at Fellowship Church, a visit to the church website will reveal she, like Deb Brunson has a prominent role at her church. Go to their main website page, http://www.fellowshipchurch.com/ and click on "About", and you will see the first two hyperlinks are "Ed Young" and then "Lisa Young" (if you want to learn "About" Fellowship Church, you first should read about Ed and Lisa!) Click here to read about Lisa Young. I argue, she is a de facto co-pastor with her husband. She is described: "Lisa communicates God’s Word with warmth and grace, inspiring others to pursue a more intimate relationship with Him. Her passion is to see herself and others embrace the joys of walking with Christ in every day experiences."

I believe Lisa Young is the de facto co-pastor at Fellowship Church with her husband.

The arguments against this will be that neither Debbie Brunson nor Lisa Young preach in the church services, while Mimi Walker does. True. However, again, the scripture I've quoted above seems to be pretty clear - women should not speak, and its obvious they should not have leadership over men. If you don't think the male staffers at FBC Jax and Fellowship Church answer to Debbie Brunson's and Lisa Young's de facto leadership, you're crazy. They are there, they are visible, and their presence is felt.

Also, I know of churches that allow women to teach men in co-ed Sunday School classes - yet these churches are not disfellowshipped.

So what's my point? My point is that why not let these churches decide for themselves who to call as pastor or co-pastor, who to ordain as deacons, and who to teach Sunday School? Its called church autonomy. How many times have critics of this blog told me to butt out of their business? Those at Dallas will likely say the same when we discuss their proposed "Crystal Campus" starting next week. And spare me the argument that female pastors are a slippery slope to ordaining homosexual pastors. Homosexuality is a sin, and last time I checked being a female is not a sin, so these two issues are not related except in the minds of men who really don't want to see women teaching in a pulpit because, well, they don't like it.

Those in SBC leadership today should hope that a group more conservative than they doesn't gain control some day, and disfellowship them for allowing women to walk around church with their heads uncovered, speaking and daring to look men in the eye and ask them questions.

I hope the Walkers at DHBC stand strong, and present a strong defense in the meeting this fall prior to the vote, and that other churches and pastors in Georgia will come to their defense.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time for Megas to Pay Their Way?

As a citizen of Jacksonville, Florida, its the same old story in the news:

City government doesn't have enough money to provide needed services. They need to either raise our property taxes or our garbage fees, or both.

Here's a thought: maybe local governments need to look at a brand new source of revenue right under their noses - in fact in Jacksonville's case, RIGHT NEXT DOOR...that would be property taxes on CHURCHES, especially large mega churches. Why are mega churches who rake in millions each year and provide relatively few services in their local community as compared to their revenue and property tax exemption, still in this day, getting a free pass from having to pay for needed government services?

Follow my logic:

The government has a budget deficit, and guess where the solution is? Not in budget cuts, but in the pockets and portfolios of the citizens. Yep, as Obama and the dems have their sights on higher income taxes, as our health insurance premiums rise and energy prices start climbing again, guess who needs to fork over more money to the local government?

You and I. The solution is in our pockets. Fork it over. To the government.

At the same time, Christians go to church and they hear their pastors complain that we aren't giving enough there, that their pastor can't do the ministry God has called them to do. Even recently Southern Baptist pastors got their marching orders from Ronnie Floyd, the head of our SBC Great Commission Task Force - telling pastors that the money necessary to get the gospel out is in the "pockets and portfolios" of selfish church members who on average only give 2.65% of their income to charity.

Floyd's answer? He tells pastors to get back to preaching a 10% tithe. So for the Southern Baptists, 2.65% isn't good enough, they need that quadrupled, else they can't do what God called them to do.

You and I. The solution is in our pockets. Fork it over. To the churches.

And here in Jacksonville we're also told that people aren't buying enough of the NFL Jacksonville Jaquars tickets, and we'll lose the franchise and all the benefits of it unless we buy more tickets.

So here we are...both the government and the church - and the NFL - looking for ways to get their hands into our pockets.

But I submit to you, that some of the money that the government needs is NOT in our pockets and portfolios...it is in the bank account and property portfolio of our mega churches. Churches pay ZERO property taxes. In days gone by this made sense. Churches provided needed services by helping the poor and ministering to those in need. A sizable amount of their revenue helped the community at large. Pastors made a meager income, and they ministered in their local community.

But this is a different day, with the advent of the mega church and CEO pastor. Most of the large churches in this day and time are now entertainment centers, with high priced pastors (some of them actually millionaires) and a stable of well-paid professional "reverends" with master's degrees from seminary. Just a few stingy percents of their budget goes to anything remotely considered to be helping the community, while they spend large portions of their budgets on buying local and national TV time, hiring marketing consultants to steal sheep, and making sure their ministers have a very comfortable lifestyle. Their salary and bennies for the professional ministers is between 40% and 50% of TOTAL REVENUE, for crying out loud. To use a Ronnie Floydism - I'm amazed at the selfishness of mega churches who rake in millions and only give 2.65% of their income to help people.

And we can't avoid the storehouse tithe doctrine being taught by Mac Brunson at FBC Jax and others that tells Christains ALL of their FIRST 10 percent of charitable giving must be given to the church, undesignated. And these pastors call US selfish - this doctrine calls Christians to stiff their local charitable organizations unless they FIRST fork over 10% of their income to the church.

So why should not the government require these stingy mega churches to begin to pay at least A LITTLE BIT of property tax out of their millions? Sure, give an exemption for much smaller churches, but above a certain level of property value, larger churches should have to start paying for their needed government services! Certainly they can find the money in their pastors' salary and benefits and retirement line items, or they can trim their bloated professional staffs...or God forbid maybe they would start smaller churches when they reached a certain size.

But in all likelihood the mega church pastors would use their charisma and their church marketing gurus to preach the tithe harder and more convincingly to get the money from our pockets to make up the difference.

But the church can't pass a law raising our "tithe"....

....so I say let the mega churches start to pay their fair share, and stop mooching off of the tax payers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The FBC Dallas Building Program: How're They Doing It?

In some upcoming articles I am going to take a look at the current capital fund raising and building program currently underway at First Baptist Church Dallas.

We'll look at the proposed facilities, the cost projections, and most importantly we'll examine the sermons, meetings, and the use of powerful media presentations used to sell this project as God's will, to the members of FBC Dallas.

We can't escape the irony of 2010 being the year that the Southern Baptist Convention is promising a "Great Commission Resurgence" and the GCR chairman Ronnie Floyd is telling us that to fund this GCR the money is in the "pockets and portfolios" of the church members - we see that one of the SBC's most historic churches is asking for its members to not dig into their "pockets and portfolios" to fund more missions, but to give 10% or more of all "personal assets" to build a $140 million dollar campus downtown - to the glory of God, of course.

FBC Dallas' pastor, Robert Jeffress is a solid Bible expositor and a likeable guy. He seems to have done a very capable job of putting forth a vision to upgrade their aging facilities, then assembling a committee of church members who have studied various options for this vision and who employed the services of an architect to design several options. The committee made a presentation to the church November 2009 for what the committee thinks is the best option. It is a mammoth project completely transforming their campus, with a pricetag of about $140 million dollars - which is a bargain, the church is told, if they act now in a narrow window - but we'll delve into that issue later.

Currently FBC Dallas is the middle of their capital fund raising program, which will lead them to a "Committment Sunday" on May 2nd where everyone will submit their pledge cards for their 3-year capital giving committment, an "Announcement Sunday" on May 16th, then a church-wide vote on June 6th on how to proceed based on what was committed. They had a pep-rally of sorts on Wednesday March 3rd with Jim Cymbala to call the church to prayer and committment to the vision.

In the coming weeks we'll look at what has led them to this point, looking at the promises and results of their last capital program under Mac Brunson and a recent land acquisition that has the church STILL with $16 million dollars of debt, and the methods used to "sell" the $140 million dollar project to the congregation.

Below is the "Manifesto" video from the FBC Dallas website if you want an overview of the project.

For Generations to Come: Manifesto from Ascendio on Vimeo.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Fellowship Church Jet Scandal: What Not to Do When Caught With Your Pants Down

We are now more than a month removed from the Ed Young jet scandal at Fellowship Church. And I'm quite certain we haven't heard the last of this from the news media. John Cross' and Mac Richard's ridiculous defense of Ed Young all but ensured that the media will continue to dig and reveal more details of Ed's lavish, jet-setting lifestyle.

Ed Young and his trustees were caught with their pants down, and they handled it wrong, ensuring further scrutiny. They gave non-answers, and played the victim.

Ironically, on the same day that the WFAA report was broadcast in Dallas, here in Jacksonville another local TV news reporter did an expose' on a Jacksonville organization.

Our local electrical utility, JEA, was caught with their pants down, too.

But oh, how different was the response of JEA's leadership and that of Fellowship Church.

I'm quite certain no one out of Jacksonville is interested in reading about the JEA scandal, but it was the lead story on the February 4th news, and here's the skinny: seems a number of electrical repair work crews who immediately upon receiving their work orders for the day would drive their JEA trucks out of the JEA lot and down the road for an early morning breakfast on the clock. And some of the crews would park their trucks and sleep for hours at a certain dead-end road doing zero work. Not just once in a while, but almost every single day during the three-month long investigation.

Crews not working, but crews feasting and napping on the clock.

And the news reporter filmed it and documented it for three months, and caught JEA with their pants down.

JEA is accountable to the people of Jacksonville as they are at least partially owned by the city. And people in Jacksonville are not happy with rising electrical rates, so they are not happy to hear that their money is being wasted by having work crews eating breakfast and lunch, and taking naps with their money.

How did JEA respond when caught with their pants down? The contrasts between JEA and Fellowship Church, both of whom were caught in a scandal - is striking. Ed Young was found to be living high on the hog and leasing a luxury private jet to the tune of millions of dollars, while JEA crews were found to be eating and sleeping instead of maintaining our electrical infrastructure.

Very embarrassing for both organizations.

But John Pitre, the JEA manager responsible for the work done by these crews, faced the music. He actually talked to the reporter ON CAMERA. He looked nervous. He didn't deliver a prepared speech with make-up like Ed Young. Pitre looked like a deer caught in the headlights at times. But to his credit, he gave answers and expressed regret. He didn't refuse to talk to the reporter like Ed Young. He didn't tell JEA customers that he refuses to watch the TV report. No, the man sat down with the reporter, watched the filmed footage of his crews slacking off, and said this, on the record:

"Perception-wise it's very bad...if I saw something like that I'd be angry too. I myself I take the trust of the community and citizens seriously and if I saw something like this going on I'd probably do the same thing and report it...as my position here, now that I know about it, I'll do what I can to investigate this and deal with it appropriately."

What a contrast. Subsequent to the initial report JEA announced they were launching an investigation into the employees involved, and some received discipline. And JEA answered all questions about this scandal, and other follow-up issues like overtime pay.

If JEA took the approach that Ed Young and Fellowship Church did, they would have employed the following tactics:

- Pitre would have not talked to the reporter, and the JEA would have held a press conference to say that Pitre still has not, and never will, watch the news report.

- Pitre would have said that he has in impeccable reputation, and that God in fact called him into the power business and that his ultimate authority is God, and therefore everyone can dismiss the news report since he will give an account to God on how JEA's money is spent;

- Pitre would have flown in two board members from other utilities, to talk about what a Godly man Pitre is, how wonderful his wife and kids are, and that if there was even a "whiff of a impropriety" they have better things to do and wouldn't be board members of JEA.

- Pitre would have said that we should all pray for those people behind the report (like the reporters, the camera men, the irate JEA customers), that they would get right with God.

- Pitre would have announced that this report was an attack not just on him, but on JEA, and all of JEA's customers.

But Pitre didn't, and JEA handled this scandal by being open, honest, and transparent. They never attacked the messenger, instead they dealt with the facts presented to them.

Some may say there is no comparison: one is a church, and one is a power company. But both of these organizations are accountable to their communities. JEA's public trust is obvious. But FC is supposed to be a church that proclaims the gospel and people in the community don't expect them to operate for the personal benefit of the pastor. So they, too, are accountable to Dallas/Fort Worth citizens in that regard.

This is why these so many of these mega church CEO pastors are such a detriment to the gospel. They think they're God's gift to Christendom, when actually it is their lifestyle and humongous egos that turns the world off to their Christianity. And when the world sees church members lap it up and give the Ed Young's of the world a standing ovation for their non-answers to scandal, they realize whatever religion THAT is, its not for them. The non-Christians refuse to drink any Kool Aid that would cause them to have to fork money over to Ed Young's church and then give him a standing O when its found out that he used some of it to lease an 8 million dollar jet.

Pretty sad day when our government and quasi-government agencies are the ones setting the example for the church, instead of the other way around.

As my friend General Larry Platt says:

"Pants on the ground, pants on the ground, lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Take it to a Ho' Nutha Level" - 30,000 Feet and Over $2 Million a Year?

Its been about 4 weeks since the Ed Young story broke about his leased jet and lavish lifestyle, and we have not heard the end of it for sure. Sadly, very few, if any, SBC leaders will dare call Ed Young out on the over-indulgence of his church leasing an 8 million dollar luxury jet. As I said a few weeks ago, it was the president of the Florida Baptist Convention, John Cross, who flew out to Fort Worth to defend Ed Young and the church's use of "private air travel". Imagine, a president of an SBC state convention defending a pastor's use of a luxury private jet. Wow.

Three weeks ago the SBC Today gang took up the issue on their podcast (2/11/10 podcast), and they pulled all their punches and would hardly say one critical word about Young.

Even the SBC Today gang guest on the 2/11 podcast, SWBTS seminary professor John Mark Yeates pooh-poohed the money issue, saying Ed Young is accountable only to God concerning how the church's money is spent. Unbelievably, Yeates dismissed the entire WFAA news report as a "smear" and characterized the Saturday 2/6/10 dog and pony show starring Young, Cross and Richard, as Young "attempting to be very, very transparent by opening the books". Huh? Opening the books? Yeates even defended Young's lifestyle by saying that "many of the clientele" at the church are much more affluent than Young and have larger houses. And none of the SBC Today gang challenged these nonsensical defenses offered up by Yeates.

So no one in any leadership position in the SBC will dare call Ed Young out on the plane or the lack of transparency about it. Further proof, as I have said many times on this blog: it is up to the lay people to reign in these guys by stopping the money flow. The IRS can help, if they would ever require 501(c)3 religious organizations to release detailed financial records to their donors as do other non-profits...I pray that day is soon approaching.

Speaking of money flow....its worth considering just how much money does this airplane siphon away from doing God's work each year. Since Ed Young and John Cross will never say, we'll have to make some assumptions:

- we shall assume the plane is indirectly leased by Fellowship Church and/or Fellowship Connection. While not the direct lessors, the names "Fellowship Church", "Fellowship Connection, and "Ed Young, Jr." appear on the lease document, and Ed's departure from FC is a condition of contract default (see page 6, paragraph 12 of the lease document here).

- we shall assume the plane is not a fractional, time-share kind of lease, and that Fellowship Church is the sole user of the plane, and therefore responsible for the operating and maintenance costs. If they are just sharing the plane with other users, I assume that information would have been shared on 2/6/10.

- we will assume that Ed Young or his business partners own some sort of stake in the lessor company, Medill Co, which was formed just weeks before the lease was signed. In fact, "Medill Co." is not a company, it is a Delaware Trust, and whoever has the financial interest in that trust is unknown and cannot be known.

So, what would it cost to lease, operate, and maintain this jet?

Let's consider the following:

1. Leasing Costs: Some research shows that the annual lease fee for a jet of this type might be on the order of 1% per month of the value of the plane. Brett Shipp put the plane's value at 8 million. A 1990 model of the plane is on the market at over $11 million, so the $8 million price tag is not unrealistic. This would put the the lease fee at around $80,000 per month. A bargain for sure.

2. Annual Maintenance Costs: According to this document, the annual fixed maintenance costs of the N188FJ Falcon 50 triple-engine jet would be nearly $700,000. That's just to put the thing in the hanger.

3. Per Nautical Mile Operating Costs: the same document puts the per nautical mile operating cost of Falcon 50 at about $8.50 per mile. Thus, a round trip to New York City would cost around $21,000. That's chump change to rap artists, NBA superstars...but it ain't chump change to the faithful church members who fork over their hard-earned money to their church. I'd like to see how much they would raise if they held a special offering to raise $20,000 on a Sunday to pay for Ed's jet fuel for his next speaking gig.

So this plane would cost about $1.7 million a year to lease and maintain, and if Ed flies about 75,000 miles per year, tack on another $640,000.

And perhaps the biggest questions to be answered: What is the residual, buy-out option that Medill Co. has at the end of the 10 year lease in 2017? We don't know. But a source on the Internet claims it is well below market, and the question then becomes: is Fellowship Church, through the 10 years of lease payments, purchasing a jet for Ed Young? We don't know, because they won't give any information on the lease terms.

And John Mark Yeates characterizes Ed Young as being "very, very transparent".

So, the total annual price to lease and operate and maintain private jet for rockstar megachurch preacher?

$2.3 million

The cost of wasted dollars for God's kingdom that could do so much other good?


The deafening silence from those in SBC leadership?

Not surprising.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dave Ramsey on Tithing - I Did It All the Way Into and Out of Bankruptcy

Dave Ramsey, the very popular personal finance guru who appears frequently on the FoxNews Channel and teaches church members how to manage their finances, seems to advocate that Christians should continue the practice of tithing under all circumstances, even when their finances become tight...and get this....even when facing bankruptcy, or even if they are IN bankruptcy.

First of all, I like Dave Ramsey and he has done much to help people better manage their finances. I take nothing away from him on that. But he gives some very eye-popping advice on tithing that I think Christians should be aware of, especially since Dave makes the rounds in evangelical churches teaching Christians how to manage their money.

Here on the "Ask Dave" portion of his website, the following is asked:

"Janelle in Sacramento wonders if they should cut their tithe in order to help them get out of debt more quickly. Dave explains his spiritual take and that he wouldn’t stop his tithe or reduce it."

OK, so then Dave (or the writer of Dave's response) answers with the following:

"No, I wouldn’t stop my tithe. I wouldn’t reduce it. It’s a tenth. I tithed all the way into bankruptcy court and all the way out. These are a loving Father’s instructions for His kids."

The above is the last paragraph of his answer, I'll deal with the others below. So he is saying that even if times are tough, whatever you do, DON'T REDUCE YOUR TITHE! I find it hard to believe that a credible financial expert would tell people this. There are a myriad of circumstances in which a Christian may need to reduce their charitable giving. People that have made poor choices and amassed serious debt very well may not be able to tithe and care for their families. Not to mention it may be downright immoral for a Christian to fork over 10% of their income to a church when they have creditors who are not getting the money owed to them.

And then he throws in that he has tithed all the way into bankruptcy court and all the way out. This reminds me of Mac Brunson's words that he's never seen a tither go broke. Well, apparently Dave Ramsey did. I wonder how court appointed bankruptcy trustees will take to a Christian who seeks bankruptcy protection from the courts, and the trustee sees that the person is continuing to give thousands of dollars to their church but not paying their creditors. Is that even legal? Is it moral to write checks for 1/10th of your income to your church at the same time stiffing your creditors and going to the government for protection from those creditors?

Now the rest of Dave's response:

"By definition, an evangelical Christian is someone who believes what the Bible says. That’s where we need to go for our answers, not some guy on the radio. However, I can help you with that. I’m not your authority; God’s word would be."

Sounds very good, so far.

"As I’ve studied Scripture, the word 'tithe' literally means tenth. Deuteronomy says to give a tenth of your net increase—a tenth of your income. About 1,200 years of Protestant Christian teaching has been that the tithe goes to the local church because the local church is the New Testament representation of the Old Testament storehouse. The Old Testament storehouse took care of the Levites. The church in your community is supposed to be doing that. That’s an evangelical Christian definition of it.

Here's where the problems start. I think he should have stopped after paragraph 1 - this paragraph proves his thesis of not being an authority on tithing in paragraph 1.

Some comments:

- The "storehouse tithe" concept is not a 1200 year old protestant teaching...in fact, last time I checked we've only had 500 years of "Protestantism" (Martin Luther hung his 95 theses in 1517, so that would be 493 years). But maybe Dave is confusing the tithe with the Catholic indulgences which do stretch back 1000 years or so.

- the "storehouse tithing" doctrine has been taught in American evangelical churches for about 100 years. Its not a 1200 year old, church teaching as Dave says.

- not sure which Deuteronomy reference he is making, but it may very well be the tithe to the poor described in Deut 14:28-29. Only problem is that was a tithe to be given every third year, and was primarily intended for the poor and needy. So this would be 3 1/3%. There were also two other tithes in the Mosaic Law (the Levitical tithe and the festival tithe - bringing the total to 23 1/3% annually, not 10%).

- Dave has one thing right: "The church in your community is supposed to be doing that", referencing caring for the poor. He knows by and large very little of the 8 billion dollars going to Southern Baptist coffers each year make it to the poor and needy, or even to world evangelism.

- I know of no place in the bible where the "local church" is the representation of the "Old Testament storehouse". The New Testament "church" was not a building or a storehouse. It was a collection of believers.

Dave continues:

"When does it occur? As I’ve studied it in Scripture, it’s real clear that it’s off the top as it says in Proverbs. That’s before anything else occurs. Having said all of that, there’s enough toxicity in Christianity and misinformation, so let’s back up from that. God loves you whether you give money to the church or not. He doesn’t love you more if you give. We’re not going to get into performance-based legalism. We’re just doing this because we love God and that’s what He’s telling His kid to do. I’m going to follow that."

- reference to Proverbs must be Proverbs 3:9-10, where we are told to bring to the Lord "the firstfruiuts of all thine increase" (KJV) or "the first of all your produce" (NASB)...so yes, we are to bring the first of our crops.

- Kudos to Dave, as he does have it exactly right that God doesn't love us more if we give more.

Finally, I wonder why Dave would be so firm on this, that he would recommend someone to not reduce their giving below 10% under any cirucmstances? I'm assuming that its not a deeply held biblical conviction, as he misses the historical length of Protestantism by about 700 years, and doesn't know the tithe to help the poor in Deuteronomy is only 3 1/3 percent per annum. Is it really out of conviction? Would any serious financial consultant recommend a Christian to tithe even when they are facing financial trouble, even bankruptcy?

Its no secret that a portion of Dave's market for his services is derived from evangelical churches. Probably every WD reader has seen an advertisement at their church to attend a Ramsey seminar or simulcast.

How popular do you think Ramsey would be with the evangelicals, especially of the Southern Baptist ilk, if he were to admit that sometimes a Christian has to reduce their giving in certain life situations, or to admit that to be a generous giver might not mean 10% for some Christians?

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Brappers" - The Baptist Rappers

Last week I showed Ed Young's latest "rap" video called "U-B-U" - a message to tell pastors to "just be you", and the video highlights (endorses) some controversial preachers for their "uniqueness". I included this video below again.

Seeing Young's rap video reminded me of a rap skit last year at FBC Woodstock, teaching the peeps that they "gotta give God His full 10 percent"...a very creative way to tell people that they must take their income check, move the decimal point one place to the left, and write a check for that amount and give it to their church so that they may enjoy God's blessings.

See the tithing rap video below.

Some of my favorite quotes from the Woodstock rap video:

"Listen up now to what I got to say,
What I do every Friday when I get my pay,
Before I buy my groceries or pay my rent,
I gotta give God his full 10 percent"

Yes, before you buy groceries for your kids, and before you pay your rent, or care for your kids and wife, please - God wants you to write a check to your church. Now. Thank you.

And this gospel nugget:

"I take it straight off the top,
That's the way its gotta be,
And then everything's good between God and me."

Implying, of course, if you ain't gonna take it straight off the top, yo, evrathing ain't good between God and you....

and a verse written by Steve Gaines, apparently:

"Now you know how to do it,
So what's your excuse?
You can't play God's money fast and loose?
And where's your heart?
Just follow the cash.
I'm storing mine up in the heavenly stash."

Just goes to show, even false doctrine can be presented in a creative, humorous way! At least Johnny Hunt showed just a little bit of embarrassment at the end.