H/T: Dub Meta, May 22, 2015 11:36am
To the family and leadership at First Christian Church of Florissant and to the administration at St. Louis Christian College:
I wish to remind you of the far reaching ramifications of the actions you are taking in this time; that however minimal they seem to you right now, they are actually quite profound. And, however subtle you think your motives appear, they are magnified to those looking in. Whatever you have decided in secret is and will be broadcast and shouted from the rooftops (Luke 8:17, 12:2) and your course of action now does not just effect you, but thousands of people all over the globe. Moreover, I wish to remind you that God knows the innermost thoughts and motives of the heart and has promised to judge us according to even every idol word (Matthew 12:36).
I was converted to Christianity in the driveway of members of First Christian Church of Florissant (FCCF) and was baptized into the church by a youth minister there in 1996. In the youth group I became friends with Kari Benton and I knew all the Wingfields. In 2000, I attended St. Louis Christian College (SLCC) and graduated with an Associates in General Studies. Among my friends in the student body was Titus Benton. I remained friends with Titus through his time in ministry at FCCF and continue that friendship today. Professor Doug Lay was one of my professors and I credit him with inspiring me to study English for my bachelors degree. He remains my friend to this day. None of them, however, asked me to or prompted me to write this letter; I say this to give you full disclosure.
Although I am now a minister at an urban church in San Diego and no longer affiliate with the Restoration Movement, my roots in North County and the Restoration Movement churches there remain deep. Believe me when I say that I love FCCF, SLCC, and everyone involved in this current crisis, and I wish for the best good to come from this terrible situation. And, it is through love and the wish for goodness to take root that I write this letter.
I have been watching the events unfold in North County and I have a grave concern for FCCF and SLCC in this time. I’m concerned that even your lampstands could be uprooted permanently unless you change your heart and your course of action immediately (Revelation 2:5). I do not wish to condemn anyone, but I find it absolutely necessary to express to you, FCCF and SLCC, and your leadership the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Usually, I have a rule about speaking against other ministries and/or Christians. My rule is that I generally extend grace and prayers only, except for when A) I have personally heard or witnessed the gospel compromised or B) Someone, especially someone I know, has been hurt or is in danger of being hurt. This particular occasion exempts my silence on both accounts.
I am going to paint two pictures for you regarding the recent events that have taken place on your watch and by your leaders. In one picture, I will show how your situations are handled by people who believe and obey the gospel. On the other side, I will show how your situations would be handled by people who do not understand or believe the gospel.
How does a leader react when someone questions the safety of the youth?
Gospel Approach: In line with the example of Christ, when any allegation is made or insinuated that a leader has had any inappropriate relationship with anyone (including spooning), direct and thorough action is taken immediately, even if the allegations are suspected of being false or a misinterpretation. As Jesus taught, “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). As Paul taught, “there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among you” (Ephesians 5:3). And, especially if these allegations include children, of whom Jesus states, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
Would you not do the same if you received an allegation that a leader was embezzling offering money? Would you not do the same if you received an allegation that a leader was teaching false doctrines? How much more so when our most vulnerable people, children, are involved?
An example of what this would look like is:
A) If the allegation involves someone’s safety, especially children, contact the police immediately.
B) Church leadership immediately and personally meets with the person whom the accusation has been made against and directly questions them, documenting everything with witnesses in the room.
C) Put them on leave and separate them from anyone vulnerable until a complete investigation has been processed. A godly and innocent accused would understand this approach and appreciate the integrity and thoroughness.
D) Send out a survey to every parent and youth in the church asking if anyone has even been alone with any minister in private, if anyone has been made to feel uncomfortable or touched inappropriately in any way, and if there is any relevant information that needs to be made known. That is just a start. (This is an example I’ve personally seen recently in another church, even when everything about the allegation screamed “falsehood” and it eventually proved to be false.)
Although this is may seem extreme or embarrassing, it is actually a wise and necessary act of protection through love. Because Jesus gave His entire life for our behalf, to save us from the wrath of God, we are to also, especially leaders, give up our own lives for the protection of others. This is what the gospel is, an act of love and protection, which is true shepherding.
Wrong Approach: The leader dismisses the allegations without a rigorous investigation. Perhaps because of embarrassment or that the leader doesn’t understand the role of a shepherd. Perhaps it is because the shepherd doesn’t really love the sheep or loves their own life and position more. Maybe it could be a lack of diligence or a lack of good faith towards the reporting party.
“He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” (John 10:12-13)
How does a leader react when they have made a mistake? (For example, dismissing allegations of inappropriate conduct.)
Gospel Approach: When a gospel believing leader makes a mistake, they change their heart (repent), confess their sin (bring it to the light), and find comfort in God’s grace. Because they are already forgiven and through the gratitude and joy over the grace already afforded them, they do everything possible to rectify the situation (Luke 19:1-10). If the moral failure is great enough that the leader disqualifies himself from leadership, they step down immediately to the benefit of the church and the glory of God because a true leader puts the church and the integrity of the gospel above their own desires, career, ego, etc…
They do this because:
A) The leader in the church believes in the authority of scripture and submits to it, and scripture calls for leaders to be “beyond reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6).
B) They recognize that they are not a hero or an elevated person but actually a servant (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus Christ is the only hero. Stepping down actually gives glory to Christ because they show their reverence to Him as servants and their love over the people, that the people require leaders of integrity and example (1 Peter 5:2-3).
C) They recognize that part of their role as a shepherd is to create a healthy church body by raising up the next generation of leaders in integrity. Others should have already been trained to be leaders. As an example to them, they will step down and hand leadership over to who is ready, able, and above reproach.
Wrong Approach: They hide their mistakes in the darkness for fear that their deeds will be exposed. They do this because they do not understand or they do not believe the gospel.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).
They attempt to distract the church body and “move forward” without dealing with the real issue in an attempt to save face, like the Samaritan woman at the well attempted to deceive Jesus when she said, “I have no husband” (John 4:7-38).
They attempt to silence the truth speakers by force like the high priest and council at Jerusalem tried to silence Peter and the Apostles from speaking the truth about God (Acts 5:12-42).
They deceive and shift blame like Adam and Eve did before God in the Garden (Genesis 3:12-13).
They lie by stating “we are seeking zero financial penalties. We only want to clear our name,” yet court documents show you are suing several people for $25,000. How will those thousands help clear your name?
They attempt to discredit those who point out their sins and errors in an ad-hominem attack, like the Pharisees and Sadducees did to Jesus and his disciples (John 5:5-18).
They heap even more evil on top of the evil they have already done by manipulating scripture to justify their evil actions. Even though scripture is incredibly and undeniably clear that suing a Christian in a secular court is a direct contradiction of a command of Jesus Christ, himself! They write a “Bible study” and, not only pervert scripture, but, teach others how to do the same.
Is this not the exact opposite of a Christian leader? Is this not teaching people to disregard and disobey Christ for their own sake? Does this not undermine and negate the entire fundamental purpose of the ministry?
You state, “It is troubling for many to think that any Christian church would ever find it necessary to employ an attorney or to use civil courts to file a law suit. After all, doesn’t the Bible say Christians shouldn’t sue other Christians?”
By what manner of logic are we using here, FCCF elders? “Did God really say you should not eat from the tree?.. You will not surely die…”
But, when you believe the gospel, it is your honor, privilege, and joy to confess openly all your sins, mistakes, and shortcomings. In the ways that God has sanctified you, the gospel is proclaimed in your fruit and deeds. In the ways that you fall short, the gospel is proclaimed in your acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as your only righteousness and in your fundamental need for His grace.
How does a leader react when they know people have been victimized?
Gospel Approach: Leaders react with compassion, honesty, and love. As Jesus did and does, they seek out those who are hurting and call forward all those who are burdened, even to the ends of the earth (Luke 19:10). They advocate for victims and champion care for the marginalized (James 1:27).
And, they reach out to the evil person and perpetrator of the crimes, in order to share the truth of the redemption Jesus Christ offers to them as well. (And, this was what Doug Lay did when Milburn was taken into custody. I have read that this was also the case with FCCF. If the purpose of the many visits from FCCF people to Milburn was for the sake of ministry to him, I commend you. That was done in accordance with the gospel (Matthew 5:43-48).)
Wrong Approach: Leaders with a wrong approach ignore and neglect victims and possible victims in their own midst and call it “honoring” them by “allowing them to initiate communication and process healing through the counselors of their choosing.”
They call themselves the victim and attempt to paint those who point out their unrepentant sin as oppressors, taking attention away from the only true victims of the crime and manipulating the situation for their own safety and/or gain.
They shift blame away from themselves by saying “the criminal acts that took place in 2007 did not occur in our facility or as part of our programming…” or insinuate that the person who hired the perpetrator is really responsible for his behavior by saying “I did not supervise Brandon, [the hiring] was [Benton’s] personal request.”
They shift blame away from themselves by purposefully and deceptively minimizing the perpetrators involvement in the church in public statements.
This is manipulation and deception, not the work of a minister or ministers of the gospel.
How does a leader react when they, perchance, have been falsely accused?
Gospel Approach: A leader who understands the gospel would have no fear, intimidation, or turmoil whatsoever from a false accusation. This confidence would be fueled by their zealousness for good in Christ. From them would pour out gentleness and respect. Their conscious would be so pure that those who slander them would be put to shame (1 Peter 3:13-16). In fact, someone who truly understands the gospel and follows Jesus in all their ways would count it a blessing to be falsely accused. Is this not how Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
They would live in such an upright manner that the foolishness of ignorant men would be totally silenced and they would not revile or threaten in return, but instead entrust themselves to the Divine Judge (1 Peter 2:15, 23).
Wrong Approach: A leader who does not obey the gospel would avoid his accusers, misrepresent the accusations to their congregation, publish false or deceptive information, call themselves a victim, manipulate scripture, bully their accusers, encourage others they control to attempt to silence them, file illegal and frivolous lawsuits towards their accusers in an attempt to silence them, etc.
These are not the actions of anyone who is a Christian leader or of any Christian who has been falsely accused.
The Conclusion: I have never worked at FCCF or SLCC and never been in any type of dispute with Steve Wingfield or any elder there or anyone at SLCC. I have never been sexually abused in any way (and implying that someone would have a false motive because they were abused is absolutely reprehensible). I write this as an overseer of the church in accordance with 1 Timothy 5: 20-21 and Matthew 18:17. Unfortunately for those in leadership at FCCF and SLCC, Titus Benton, Doug Lay, and Scott Seppelt (who also reported Milburn to Steve) are of the most integrious men I know in St. Louis, and their reputation as true men of God stands alone as an indictment against you that reverberates throughout the community.
It is abundantly clear to those from the outside looking in that the leadership at FCCF is not acting in the interests of the church, has rejected obedience to scripture, and is still acting contrary to both scripture and the gospel.
There are two approaches to church leadership: The gospel approach is to put men who are above reproach and have solid reputations in as elders that will challenge and sharpen other leaders. This is commonly called “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). These people are obedient to Christ and scripture. The other approach is to put “yes-men” and those who show allegiance to “the leader” in eldership. These elders do not obey Christ or scripture but obey their true leader, the pastor, and do his bidding instead. It is clear which type of leadership has been instituted at FCCF.
It is also clear that SLCC has maintained a conflict of interest by not taking a stand for the integrity of students, the integrity of academia, the integrity of scripture, the integrity of Christian leadership, and the integrity of the gospel, which are the very essence and heart of their mission, and instead elected to submit to those who give them financial support. These are not the actions of any truly academic institution, let alone a Christian one.
Because of this, the leadership at FCCF and SLCC has lost all credibility to me, even as one born by them, and lost credibility to a great many others. The leadership in these organizations have brought shame and scorn upon themselves and made themselves a public mockery both locally and nationwide by their hypocrisy. And, every day that passes in unrepentance, more and more shame and sin builds up, and more and more people lose confidence in FCCF and SLCC. I can no longer encourage anyone to attend these institutions or support them in any way.
I urge you, leaders at FCCF and SLCC to return to the gospel and to the authority of scripture, to change your heart, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
I am calling for:
1. All the elders at FCCF to immediately resign and for Steve Wingfield to immediately resign. (Biblically, you have already removed yourself from church leadership by your actions, this would just make it official.)
2. FCCF to immediately elect new leaders, preferably without a dynastic approach, which means leaders not related to the Wingfields, and leaders who are able to challenge each other without fear of retribution (Proverbs 27:17).
3. FCCF to immediately reverse their approach to victims of sexual abuse by bringing in contemporary experts and leaders in reforming the church’s approach to sexual abuse and abuse victims.
4. Dr. Guthrie Veech and the trustees at SLCC to immediately make pubic all documents and all conversations involving their former professor, Doug Lay, and this situation with FCCF. This full disclosure will let the public decide if you have maintained integrity with your actions or, like FCCF, have elected to attempt to silence critics, pressure whistle blowers, forsake your mission, forsake the gospel, and cover up mistakes.
5. SLCC to reverse their approach of silence in regard to sexual abuse in the church (and school) and publish a strong, academic, contemporary, and public stand, calling for the protection of victims of sexual abuse in churches and ministries. This document should also inform all the churches and minsters connected to you with a rigorous, correct, legal, and Biblical process in dealing with sexual abuse in the church and ministry. This is what you should have done in the first place, set a standard, but you have failed. You’ve already lost one of your greatest professors and the confidence/support of many of your alumni, don’t make the mistake of losing more.
6. Other Christian leaders to step up and make your voice heard. When the checks and balances have been compromised within a church, it is your obligation to speak up in protection of the members of that church, who are the body of Christ. When the very essence of our faith, the gospel, has been compromised, you are obligated to defend it (Galatians 2:11-14).
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. -Proverbs 28:13
-Andrew (Jake) McDonnell