Part 4: My Testimony as a Member of Arab First Baptist; Full Disclosure
What follows is my personal testimony, interspersed with my commentary, of the events occurring at Arab First Baptist beginning on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 and continuing to the time of this writing. Testimony from Jack Dixon regarding her experiences beginning in November of 2022 are also presented. This testimony includes the evidence that I possess to corroborate my story. I have blacked out all names with the exception of mine, my son’s, Jack’s, and David Kizziah’s. However, where necessary for the understanding of the narrative, I have labeled the position of the party involved.
August – September 2022:
After the Wednesday night Bible study on August 10,2022, my 17 year-old son, Kane, found a box of books against the wall in the youth room and asked the youth pastor what they were and if he could have a look. The youth pastor explained that they were the books David had chosen to use as the curriculum for the upcoming youth semester and readily passed him a copy. The book was Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know.
Knowing that Wayne Grudem is Calvinist, Kane asked if he could take a book home to look over. The youth pastor had no problem with this.
Wayne Grudem is a well-known and highly respected Calvinist theologian. I personally hold him in high regard and agree with numerous stances that he takes, with the exception, of course, of his staunch Calvinism. In the “Preface to the First Edition,” Grudem states:
“This book is a summary of twenty basic beliefs that every Christian should know.”
“It is a condensed version of my book Bible Doctrine (528 pages), and that itself is a condensed version of my Systematic Theology (1,290 pages). My son Elliot Grudem, an MDiv graduate from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, has done an excellent job in saving the most essential sections from those earlier books…”
After looking the book over himself, Kane brought the book to me on that same Wednesday night. He explained that this book was intended as curriculum for the upcoming youth semester and told me that he thought I should have a look, adding that he didn’t think I’d be happy about it. I recognized Grudem immediately, but since the title seemed to indicate that this was simply a teaching on twenty beliefs that are basic for every Christian to know I was not alarmed. That changed when I realized that this book was actually a condensed version of his systematic theology, and that the twenty “basic beliefs” included several explicitly Calvinist distinctives such as the Calvinist version of election and predestination; irresistible grace, including a break-down of the “general” versus “effective” Gospel call; compatibilism presented as the “Biblical” definition of free will; regeneration preceding faith; and original sin as inherited guilt. This list is by no means exhaustive.
In all honestly, I was shocked and more than a little confused. The youth pastor seemed to be completely fine with this text, yet I was all but certain that he was not a proponent of Calvinism. I also believed that the majority of the youth parents were not Calvinist. Historically, Arab First Baptist has been a non-Calvinist church, though I was aware that there were a few Calvinist or Calvinist leaning members. The following day, August 11th, I sent the email below to the youth pastor.
YP = youth pastor
I did not receive a reply from the youth pastor. However, Pastor David Kizziah sent me the reply below on Friday, August 12th.
As you can see, the tone is direct, yet friendly and respectful. Notice that I have outlined in red where David readily told me that he agrees with Grudem on every Calvinist point of contention I raised. I understand his following statement (“How do I articulate what the Bible teaches about free will? Original sin? Etc… This is our hope for our students. This is what is ‘basic.’”) to mean that it is his hope to teach the Calvinist view of free will, original sin, etc to the youth as doctrines that are “basic” to Christianity.
However, he also follows that by indicating that the youth will be able to “work that out on the anvil” of discussion and good hermeneutics. I was both encouraged and troubled by that last statement. On the one hand, I was happy that Kane would be allowed to question these teachings and explain the non-Calvinist interpretations of key Scriptures, which was something I felt reasonably confident in his ability to do. On the other hand, I was uncomfortable that this scenario could potentially come across as my 17-year old being pitted against authority.
That same day, I sent the following reply to David.
My tone is very friendly and respectful, and I obviously hold a high view of his character. I answered his questions clearly, and clarified that I have not personally had any negative experiences with Calvinism.
At this time I did reach out to my friend Jack Dixon, who was a youth leader, because I wanted to have at least one person that was aware of the situation other than just David, myself, and my son. I brought her the book, showed her my email correspondence with the youth pastor and David, as well as the Word document I attached to my original email to the youth pastor. I didn’t think that she and her family were Calvinist, and I wanted to show her what was planned for the upcoming semester. I told her that David and I would be scheduling a meeting. In later correspondence we set a meeting time for the following Thursday, August 18th, at 10:30 am.
The tone of our meeting was also friendly. I re-stated much of what is in the email above. He was nothing but genial and forthcoming in explaining his doctrinal views to me, confirming that they are in alignment with what Grudem presents in the text he selected for the youth. I explained that I had become aware from his sermons that he was Calvinist shortly after he arrived. I told him that during the time when we were searching for a pastor, I had asked the Associate Pastor (who had since moved on to a different congregation) what he thought the odds were that a Calvinist pastor would be hired, and that he told me he didn’t think that was likely considering our history as a non-Calvinist congregation. However, I told him that I was content to remain, despite the fact that I did not support the use of the Grudem text as a curriculum for the youth.
He asked me once again if I had had bad experiences with Calvinists or Calvinism in my past. I reiterated to him that I had not personally had any negative experiences with Calvinists or Calvinism. I expressed to him that I did not think it was fair to the non-Calvinist youth leaders to expect them to teach Calvinist doctrine. He indicated that they’d be free to teach the lessons as they liked. I told him that I thought this might put them in an uncomfortable position, and I also told him that I was concerned that some of them might not be equipped to articulate non-Calvinist interpretations of the passages the book presents Calvinistically. I asked if he would consider supplying a non-Calvinist resource of his choosing alongside the Grudem text. He declined to do so.
He did express his desire for us all to be unified in our diversity. The meeting lasted for about an hour, and at the end David asserted that he would not consider pulling the text, or supplying a non-Calvinist resource. However, he asked me if there was some other measure that would allow me to leave the meeting satisfied. I asked if he would at least make the youth parents aware that the curriculum is Calvinist so that they could prepare responses to give their children, rather than being taken completely off guard. He said that he did not want to use the word “Calvinist,” because he considered it to be inflammatory. However, he said that he would tell the youth parents that the curriculum was “Reformed.” He confirmed to me at that time that he uses the two terms synonymously.
It did bother me that he was unwilling to even consider supplying a non-Calvinist text despite the fact that he acknowledged that the majority of the youth leaders and parents are not Calvinist. Despite that, David was never rude or angry during the meeting. I was at least relieved that he had agreed to make the parents aware that it was a “Reformed” text, although I was concerned that some parents might not know what that meant. Honestly, I hoped this measure would be enough to cause other parents to voice the same concerns that I had, and perhaps we could get a non-Calvinist resource added to the curriculum. Overall, I would say that I left the meeting uneasy, but not yet concerned about his character.
On August 23rd, the youth pastor sent the following email to the youth parents in announcement of the upcoming semester.
I was upset. Although the name of the book was included, there was no mention that it was a Reformed text, which was the one thing David had told me that he would do. I also noticed that some of the youth parents had been left off the email list, and that of those left off, some were individuals I knew to be non-Calvinist. I am not saying that I believe this was intentional. I’m just stating that these parents did not get the heads up that I had been promised they would get.
Most youth parents have absolutely no idea who Wayne Grudem is, much less than he is Calvinist. Furthermore, the title seems to indicate that the book is a primer on basic Christian beliefs. I doubted that this would raise red flags for anyone. As parents, we trust the Pastor and the Youth Pastor to provide materials that we would find acceptable. In the context of our historically non-Calvinist church, not a single one of us would expect our youth program to be teaching Calvinism 101 as basic Christian doctrine.
I wasn’t sure what to do. In hindsight, I should have gone back to him and asked him why he didn’t disclose that the book is Reformed as he had agreed to do. But I didn’t. Instead, I reached out to a deacon that I respected, and that Kane particularly looked up to. Kane told me that this deacon had given a presentation at some point in the past detailing why he disagreed with Calvinism. He has a child in the youth program, so I believed that he was a good choice. He also happened to be one of the youth parents that was left off the announcement email recipient list. I sent him the email below on August 25th.
He replied to me that day with the email below.
I didn’t hear back from him for quite some time, but I had also told him there was no rush, and that I had mainly wanted to make him aware.
In the interim, I had decided to let some of the parents that I knew for sure were not Calvinist know about the book, which had already begun to be taught by this time. I agonized over whether or not this was the right thing to do, but I truly felt like I had been painted into a corner. If the situation were reversed and I was a non-Calvinist parent who had no idea that my child was being taught Calvinist doctrine as basic Christianity, I would certainly want to know, if for no other reason than to allow me to have my own conversations with my kids about the topic.
This amounted to 2 parents at the time. I just hadn’t had conversations with the others that would indicate to me where they stood. I mentioned it (very awkwardly) to the children’s minister’s wife in between Wednesday night children’s service activities. I was certain that they weren’t Calvinist, but her response made me think perhaps they were okay with the material (they have kids in youth too). I didn’t say anything else to her about it. I now know that she really didn’t pick up on exactly what it was I was telling her. I had been super awkward about it. No to mention the fact that I had brought it up when there were quite a lot of distractions going on around us. I told one other parent, who was also displeased, and asked me to keep her updated on the reply from the leadership I had reached out to.
In the meantime, the book was being used for the curriculum, and Kane would report to me what he had said at each meeting and how it was received. It wasn’t a great situation, but so far nothing earth shattering had occurred.
On September 14th, I received the following reply from the deacon I had made aware of the situation.
I was encouraged that he said he would be bringing this to the attention of the deacons and ministerial staff. However, I never heard anything else about that. I replied to him with the email below on September 21st.
YL = youth leader
The Sunday School Lesson
This is the month that everything went south. The lesson in the curriculum on election was coming up, and the youth pastor reached out to David to ask him to come give a “two views” style lesson in which he would give both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist views of election like he had done for some of the youth the year before. The youth pastor told Kane that he thought he would be pleased, because David had agreed to present both views of election in the upcoming lesson. Kane was encouraged by this news. I told my friend, the children’s minister’s wife, what Kane had been told so they’d be aware.
On November 6th, David gave the presentation to the youth during Sunday School. He did not give two views; he gave only the Calvinist view. There was a lot of confusion. The youth pastor had not been present, however there were a few youth leaders in attendance, one of which was Jack Dixon. Below is a picture that Kane took of the white board that David used in teaching the lesson.
If you are unfamiliar with Calvinism, you may need to refer to Part 2 of this series in order to get a better understanding of what is being taught on this board. David has listed the Calvinist order of salvation, which places God’s choice of the “elect” first. According to Calvinism, He chose the “elect” before Creation, not based on anything He foreknew about any individual. Calvinists don’t like to use the word “arbitrary” to describe the choice, but it does get the point across accurately nonetheless.
After that comes the Gospel call. If you are elect, your Gospel call will be what is called “effective,” meaning He will regenerate you, thus enabling and ensuring that you will respond in faith/repentance/belief, and be saved . If you are non-elect, the Gospel call you receive is what Calvinists refer to as “general.” God will not regenerate you, and you will not be able to even desire to have faith, repent, or believe, so your call will not be “effective,” and you will not be saved.
The umbrella of “sovereign will” over “free will” denotes the Calvinist definition of both God’s sovereign will and man’s free will. Calvinists view God’s sovereign will as equivalent with exhaustive divine determinism (though many don’t like to use the word “determinism”). Instead of defining free will in the libertarian sense (one can choose to do or not do a particular proposition, i.e., choose to either accept or reject the Gospel), they define it in the compatibilistic sense (you’re “free” because you choose to do what you want to do; however, you cannot want to accept the Gospel unless you have been regenerated).
Kane explained to me that David opened the lesson by citing Deuteronomy 29:29 which reads:
“29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (ESV)
Calvinists cite this verse as corroboration that some of the ways God interacts with us are mysterious and difficult to understand. Kane says he used the example of the Trinity (i.e., it’s difficult to understand how God can be both 1 and 3, but we know it’s true). In my opinion, this is an unconvincing argument. It’s perfectly reasonable to accept that my finite mind is not capable of grasping the details of the metaphysical existence of the Creator of the universe. It’s not reasonable to convince myself to accept two mutually exclusive truths as true at the same time and call it a “mystery.” Especially, when there are valid reasons not to accept that those two mutually exclusive truths are simultaneously true. As Calvinist Paul Helm has cautioned, that “could be license to accept nonsense.”
Kane says that David then began to go through the usual Calvinist proof texts: Ephesians 1:11, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 8, etc. During this time, Kane says that David explicitly taught exhaustive divine determinism and compatibilist free will (but neither by name). Next, Kane says that he explained that God has decrees and He has desires. You can see those two words written on the white board. (see the Calvinist view of the two wills of God in Part 2).
Somewhere around this point, Kane tells me that he raised his hand to counter some of the points David was giving with a non-Calvinist perspective. He said he literally only got one word out: “Well,” before David stopped him and asked him to hold all questions until the end, after which Kane did not speak or raise his hand again until the end.
Kane says at that point, David “strongly implied” that some people disagree with this theology for emotional rather than rational reasons, and that some consider it “unfair.” To illustrate all of this, David gave the common Calvinist analogy of God as author and humans as characters. He gave two examples here: one of Star Wars and one of Harry Potter.
With regard to Star Wars, he explained that God is analogous with George Lucas. He pre-determined absolutely everything that would occur, down to everything each character is and everything each character does. He then said something to the effect of: But when you’re watching the movie, and Darth Vader does something horrible, who do you blame, Darth Vader or George Lucas?” He answered his own question saying that, of course, we blame Darth Vader! David further explained that as author, God has decrees that will certainly come to pass. However, he also has desires that appear to be contrary to those decrees. For example, God does not desire that Darth Vader be evil and do evil things, however, as author, He has unchangeably decreed that Darth Vader will indeed be and do both.
When David ended his presentation, Kane was allowed to respond. He says that he picked the random starting place of explaining the non-Calvinist interpretation of Romans 8. He says David said that he was unfamiliar with his argument. Kane tells me that David then shut down his questions, saying that it would be better if they continued their discussion in private because Kane was using words that the rest of the room didn’t understand. Kane said he had merely used the word “soteriology,” which he followed by defining as “doctrine of salvation.”
Kane was angry. More than a few kids were completely confused. Some kids and even one of the youth leaders were coming to Jack and asking her all kinds of questions she couldn’t answer at the moment. Apparently they did feel comfortable asking David these questions. Jack has given me permission to supply the text conversation that took place between her and the youth pastor immediately after the meeting.
I want to point out that Jack’s attitude toward David here is certainly one of respect. She says that David handled everything with respect, and she clearly believes that David will agree to come address the youth again to clear up confusion. She also expresses concern that David not “feel attacked.”
There was a church picnic scheduled the evening of November 6th. Kane was still so upset about the day’s events that we didn’t attend. By evening, the children’s minister had also become aware that some children and parents were upset. He approached David at the picnic and encouraged him to clarify to the parents what had happened. David told him that there was no issue; only a couple of people had problems with the lesson.
The following Tuesday, November 8th, the youth pastor meets with David and requests that he come address the youth again, allowing them to ask questions and to clear up the confusion. David told the youth pastor to have the kids submit their questions in writing, then David would provide him with a script of his answers to read to the kids. The youth pastor did not agree to this, and continued to request that David come and address the youth in person. David relented and instructed the youth pastor to have the kids submit their questions in writing.
The next night, at the Wednesday night youth meeting, Jack and the youth pastor encouraged the kids to submit questions. Ultimately, Kane was the only one to submit questions that I am aware of. In my opinion, this was not because the kids didn’t have questions. Jack sure had fielded plenty. Ultimately, David refused to come address the kids again, saying that since only one had submitted a question, he would just meet privately, one-on-one, with any youth who expressed the desire to do so.
At this point, I was beginning to re-consider my view of his character, but I was still admonishing myself to give him the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, and to wait and see how things played out. He had not reached out to me or to my son at any point.
The following Sunday, November 13th, Jack got to church early to speak with David herself. It was not a scheduled meeting. When she went back to see him, the youth pastor was there as well. She expressed that she was disappointed in his handling of this situation so far. She explained that kids were addressing questions to her about his presentation, and that she felt that put her in a bad position. She is not Calvinist, therefore, any explanation that she gave would be from a non-Calvinist point of view. She felt that this placed her in the position of appearing disrespectful of his authority. He replied that he didn’t know what she meant. She answered that the kids had questions, but he would not agree to come answer them personally. He replied that no one had come to him with questions, she appeared to be the only one. Additionally, he told her that if she was feeling this way, he believed that she must be experiencing spiritual conviction over what he had taught during the lesson and that they should have a one-on-one meeting at a later date. This upset her, and she told David that she was not convicted, that she knows what she believes, and that she did not need a one-on-one with him. She added that if people weren’t coming to him with their questions, then it seems that he has an authority issue, not that she had a conviction issue.
At this point, she saw that he was angry. He asked her what she thought should happen? She answered that she believed he should schedule a meeting with the youth and youth parents in order to discuss what happened and clear any confusion. He told her to go find people that wanted to meet and he would do so. She countered that she was not going to allow him to put that task on her, because it would give the impression that she was the one orchestrating this whole thing. She indicated that he and the youth pastor should schedule a meeting and invite the youth and parents. Ultimately, the youth pastor sent out a text to the youth parents with the date, indicating that David wanted to meet with us to clarify recent events. The texts below are from the youth pastor to Jack after the meeting with David described above.
It is clear that by this point, I was not the only one questioning David’s behavior. David’s treatment of Jack in the meeting was understandably a turning point for her. A youth parent had even reached out to Jack with suspicions that David could have ulterior motives. It is also obvious to me that the youth pastor already seems to believe that David will not be forthcoming with the youth parents unless someone is present to ask questions that he can’t skirt. Again, the children’s minister reached out to David to encourage him to address the situation. He was told again that there was no situation.
It should also be noted that when Jack talked to the chairman of the deacon’s wife about this, she sent Jack a PowerPoint presenting the doctrines of TULIP. She and I knew that the chairman of the deacon’s family were Calvinist, because Jack had asked his wife directly at our kids’ robotics tournament earlier that weekend. She replied that they were 4-point Calvinists. This took me a little by surprise since she had not been Calvinist when we attended Tuesday women’s Bible study together in previous years, though I had not discussed the topic with her in quite some time.
She and I talked and both agreed that since there was so much confusion about what Calvinism is, it would be beneficial if we could arrange to have David present the Calvinist view clearly and a respected non-Calvinist pastor present the non-Calvinist view. After that discussion, the chairman of the deacon’s wife sent that TULIP PowerPoint to another female church member that had been sitting with us during this conversation, and to the children’s minister’s wife. I don’t know who else, if anyone, she sent a presentation to. I did not receive one.
At this point, I started to consider the fact that her husband had been on the pastor search committee. I remembered that she had told me back then that he had been tasked with delivering a presentation to the committee on Calvinism. I do not know if they had already become Calvinist at that time. At this particular time, I still believed that David’s character was such that he surely would have disclosed his doctrinal persuasions to the committee. With the information I had at that time, I made the assumption that the pastor search committee as a whole had known that David was Calvinist and had chosen not to disclose that to all of the deacons or to the congregation. I felt betrayed by this.
The conversation between Jack and the youth pastor continues below.
Here, the youth pastor expresses that he feels guilty, saying that he should’ve skipped the lesson. It should be stated that this fiasco was in no way his fault. This is a curriculum book that his pastor selected for him to use. He should not be in the position of having to censor information from the pastor’s chosen curriculum. Additionally, as Jack points out, David did not teach the lesson the youth pastor asked him to teach. It is also clear to all involved that without Jack’s persistence, David would never have agreed to hold this meeting. In truth, he had intentionally endeavored to avoid it. You can also see that Jack and I are already aware that we are, to some extent, being characterized as disgruntled women causing problems.
The Parent Meeting
The parent meeting was scheduled for November 16th. I had come prepared with my question typed up so I would state it properly, and some rebuttals to a few Calvinist claims in cases I needed them. I also brought my copy of Harwood’s Christian Theology. I felt sufficiently put off by this stage that I intended to be very direct with my question. I knew that most of the parents in the room were not aware of the interactions between myself and David at this point, nor were they aware of Jack’s. Therefore, I believed it was important for me to set my question in the proper context by explaining some of the backstory. I, personally, had no interest at all in discussing Calvinism. I wanted to hear him express actionable intent to facilitate unity in our congregation. So many parents attended that we had to move from the youth room to the much larger fireplace room downstairs.
We had been told previously that the meeting was only for parents, but I brought Kane. There were five deacons in attendance, one of which is also a youth leader. This night is like a blur to me due to the intensity of the emotions, the number of people speaking, and the length of the meeting. It was just a lot of content. I’ve don’t the best I can to recount what happened.
After everyone was seated the chairman of the deacons passed out a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message section on election, which is section V, “God’s Purpose of Grace”.
David then told everyone that he wanted to call this meeting to discuss and clear up any confusion from the lesson he had taught the youth. In actuality, he had been all but forced to have this meeting against his will. He began by giving a vague presentation of the Calvinist view of election, which he referred to as the “Biblical” doctrine of election. Since we had all just been handed a copy of the election section of the Baptist Faith and Message, it seemed clear to me that his intent in this style of presentation was to imply that if anyone disagrees with the doctrine of election as he had just explained it, then they are not in alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message. This is false since numerous non-Calvinist scholars and theologians affirm the Baptist Faith and Message. He used very vague terms and indicated that he thought the kids’ confusion was due to their “misunderstanding” of his lesson, nothing more. He then opened the floor for comments.
I raised my hand and told him that I had a question, but that it wasn’t related to Calvinism as I already understood quite well what Calvinism is. I stated that my question was phrased in a very direct manner, because I felt that was best to get my point across, but that I hoped that it wouldn’t be interpreted as disrespectful since it was certainly not intended to be so. At the time, I didn’t realize that many in the room still did not know that he is Calvinist. In fact, at least one of the deacons that I’m aware of became aware for the first time that evening. I then read aloud the following question, which I have copied and pasted from the same Word document I had typed up for that evening:
“You expressed to me in a private meeting that, despite the fact that our church membership includes individuals who hold to Calvinist doctrines (or, to use the term you prefer, Reformed doctrines, you indicated to me that you use those terms synonymously) and those who do not, it is your desire that we be unified as a church body, being respectful of both historically traditional streams of Baptist belief. When I became aware, sheerly by Kane’s accidental discovery of the box of books the church ordered, that you had selected an explicitly Reformed text as a guide in teaching this semester’s youth program, which was billed to parents as a unit on “basic Christian beliefs,” you declined to accept my suggestion to provide a non-Calvinist text so that both views could be presented to the youth and so that the youth leaders would have a resource to rely upon to accurately articulate non-Calvinist views. It is not only that the Grudem text presents Reformed theology as basic Christian belief. The book goes further by functioning as an apologetic in which dissenting views are presented as inferior or less true to Scripture. You did agree to inform all youth parents via mass email of the book being used and to directly disclose to them that this book explicitly teaches a Reformed systematic. However, while the email that was sent out did list the name of the book, it did not state in any way that it taught a “Reformed” systematic. I also noticed that several parents were left off the email list and didn’t receive this information at all. If Kane hadn’t noticed those books and asked if he could take one home, I would have had no idea that he and Ella were about to be taught Reformed doctrine as “basic” Christian beliefs in Sunday School. Despite my efforts to go through the appropriate channels of authority with the goal of informing other parents, most have ultimately been put in the situation of being taken completely by surprise. Additionally, I have noticed that in both terms of the women’s Bible study, a Reformed text was chosen, and no one was informed of this fact. Admittedly, this has altered my initial overall perspective of our meeting and led me to the following question:
In what way are you facilitating unity in practical application by:
1. Intentionally choosing to present explicitly Calvinist doctrine to our youth as “basic” Christian belief, providing solely Calvinist resources while refusing to provide non-Calvinist resources when requested, and
2. doing so in what appears to be an intentionally secretive manner?
David said a lot of words, but none of them had anything to do with answering any part of my question. He said a lot about what a respected theologian Wayne Grudem is, and how great the women’s Bible study books were. He insinuated that I was saying these materials were authored by individuals who weren’t respected, and went on a long monologue about various respected Calvinists and their deeds. I have no doubt that he knew that was not what I was saying at all.
He said that leaving parents off the email was unintentional. I replied sincerely that I had not intended to suggest that it was intentional, only to note that several had not received it, and were therefore uninformed. He never attempted to explain why the email had not stated that the youth curriculum is Reformed as he had assured me he would do. Overall he seemed to portray a sense of incredulity that anyone would consider any of those things an issue.
He also gave the impression that he didn’t understand what I was asking him. I must not have been the only one who thought so, because two individuals spoke up to re-state to him my question so that he would respond. The first individual was a deacon’s wife and the second was a deacon. Other than this, no other deacon in attendance made any contribution to the discussion the entire evening, except when the chairman of the deacons called the meeting to a close a couple of hours later. David still did not answer the questions after they had been re-stated by the two individuals.
Many parents spoke up expressing their concerns about the confusion their children felt after his lesson. Some mentioned that their children were upset that it sounded like some people never have an opportunity to be saved. He maintained that the kids misunderstood his lesson and reverted to talking about the doctrine of election in such vague, watered down terms that I, to this day, cannot rationally believe he did not intend to be misleading and placating. To me, he seemed downright patronizing.
Kane kept shooting me shocked glances. David had been nothing but forthcoming about his beliefs in our private emails and in our private meeting. It completely took me off guard to hear him be so evasive to this entire group of people who had gathered with the expectation of honestly and transparency. Some were becoming even more confused than they had been when they arrived, and it was written all over their faces. Frankly, I was disgusted with David’s handling of this situation by this juncture.
At some point someone asked a question about man’s responsibility. He replied that, of course, man is fully responsible. I knew that he was using the same vocabulary with a different dictionary, so I spoke up and said so. I stated that he had told me he held to a compatibilist definition of free will when most of the people in the room understand free will in the libertarian sense. I asked to explain what he meant by compatibilist free will. He went on for a bit saying things that had nothing to do with my request. I had no intention of making it easy for him to evade yet another important question, so I interrupted him and began giving the definition of compatibilism. At this point he raised his voice and attempted to cut me off several different times to prevent me from explaining the differing definitions. I defined them anyway.
Then, he asked me why I had “so much angst,” and asked me for the third time since August if I had had a bad experience with Calvinists that caused me to feel this way. I was furious. He knew well the answer to that question. I had answered it with abundant clarity twice before. It is my belief that he asked that question in order to make me appear as if I had irrational feelings toward Calvinists due to some mistreatment in my past.
Another youth parent explained that her daughter struggled with self-esteem issues. She asked David how he would recommend that he council her; how could she assure her daughter that she is valuable in God’s sight based on the view that only some people are “elect?” David went on for some time about God’s love for all. David’s youngest son had recently been born and he discussed how he was comforted about his son’s future. He seemed to me to be phrasing his response in such a way that the parents would be understanding him to say that all parents can indeed ensure their children that they are “elect.”
I spoke up and asked him how in the world he could suggest such a thing to any parent. According to the view he has confirmed to me that he holds, no parent has any reason to automatically assume that their child is elect. The look on his face after this statement was one that I interpreted as genuine shock and confusion. To this day, that is one of the most perplexing memories I have from this meeting. I don’t know if that look was feigned to give the impression that what I had said was ludicrous, or if he had genuinely never considered that one of his children would not be elect.
The youth pastor attempted to take responsibility for the whole ordeal by saying that he should never have asked David to teach the lesson, and that he should have been present. A parent quickly came to his defense, saying that this was not his fault in any way. A youth pastor should be able to have complete trust and faith in his pastor to teach a simple Sunday school lesson.
A couple of parents tried to give David a graceful way to reclaim the evening. One mentioned that she had given a lesson to kids before that they completely misunderstood, and she had to clarify later what she meant. He maintained that the kids had misunderstood, but still did not offer to provide any real clarifying remarks.
Another parent mentioned that if the kids misunderstood, they had all managed to misunderstand in the exact same way. David became quiet, sat on his stool and just listened to all the parents speaking. A deacon’s wife spoke up and said that her son had come home extremely upset after his lesson and told her and her husband that it felt as if there was evil in the room the entire time. One parent after another spoke up. He broke his silence to say that maybe he just wasn’t the right pastor for this church. This seemed a bit melodramatic to me since all he needed to do was apologize, agree to offer additional resources, and call it a day.
Shortly afterward, the chairman of the deacons called an end to the meeting, and went to bat for David in his closing remarks. He said that David had a true heart for missions and that he himself had been to Africa with him. If anyone has ever questioned David’s heart for missions, I am unaware of it. He then said that he had been on the pastor search committee, that he had been the one to ask David “the hard questions,” and that he knew exactly where David stood on doctrinal issues. He said that we should give David some time to consider what had been said and come up with an appropriate response.
The meeting was truly disastrous. Parents were no less confused, nothing about his views had been clarified, and some parents later expressed to me that they felt he had done nothing but be evasive and shift blame to the kids’ “misunderstanding.”
For me, the meeting was a watershed moment. I had entered with serious misgivings about his behavior, but willing to hear him out and give him the benefit of the doubt if he would agree to detail actionable steps to promote unity. A stated assurance of commitment from him to foster unity and trust in light of recent missteps would have been all I needed to hear to put this behind us and move forward. Not only did I not get that, I lost a lot of respect for him.
Going forward, my issues with David no longer centered on his baffling refusal to make parents aware of the Calvinist youth curriculum or supply non-Calvinist resources alongside the Calvinist resources the church was providing. What had once been isolated incidents that gave me pause, I now viewed as an established pattern of behavior that I recognized from my prior experience as one to distance myself from.
Fallout After the Meeting
I didn’t know what I was going to do. Jack and I began hearing through the grapevine that we had been responsible for what was being called a “firing squad.” N o one at all reached out to me to get any clarification of what had happened. Some women that Jack had considered to be close friends did not reach out at all and appeared to be believing the things that were being said about us without question. It was incredibly hurtful. We said nothing, although we were hearing of texts going around from various people that seemed to serve the purpose of fostering the perception that we had unjustly attacked David and that he was heartbroken. We didn’t defend ourselves. We were still trying to go through proper authorities to address the issues, as we have continued to do this entire time. At no time did David attempt to reach out to me, Kane, or Jack to make anything right.
Also of note, in the weeks preceding his youth lesson and this meeting, there were three new deacons set to be initiated. I know that one of those deacons is Calvinist (he joined our church because he knew David’s views).
** Update in order to correct the following statement from above: “he joined our church because he knew David’s views.” It has come to my attention that this statement is incorrect. This individual has let me know that he did not join AFBC because David held to Reformed doctrines. ***
I am not including that information to disparage that individual at all. He’s a great guy and I have no known reason to hold him in anything other than high regard. If David had a plan to stack the deacon board in order to push through future changes, I have no reason to think this man knew about it. All those initiations were put on hold while deacons met to work out these issues. If these events had occurred even one week later, the composition of the deacon body would have been much different than it is.
The “Choked Up” Sermon
On November 20th David gave a sermon on I Timothy 3, focusing on verses 1-7 which discuss the character requirements for church leadership. At first, I thought maybe he was going to take responsibility and apologize. He did not. From my perspective, with all the events from the last three months combined with the things that I knew were being said about Jack and me, this sermon came across as an attempt to emotionally manipulate those in the congregation who had heard that something was going on, but didn’t have details, which was the vast majority of the congregation. That sermon may be accessed by selecting the November 20th sermon at the following link. The relevant portion is located at the 33:30 – 36:00 mark.
After church Kane was upset. He runs tech during service, and he was struggling with acting in the capacity of David’s support staff while he was engaging in what we both viewed as overt emotional manipulation from the pulpit. I began to feel that the authorities may not intervene, and started to feel that we may have to leave the church. I wrote an email to David that day detailing my feelings and the situation I felt I was in, but I didn’t send it.
I did reach out to the chairman of the deacon’s wife. I had not spoken to her since the night of the meeting, and I was devastated to think that she thought that I would attack David in such a way. I knew that she and her husband were completely unaware that I had been talking to David about this since August and that I had reached out to another deacon during that time as well.
The text that I sent to her is below.
The Acapella Sermon
Our meeting was scheduled for after church. That day, November 27th, David gave a sermon that I now call the “Acapella Sermon” because he dramatically sings hymns acapella from the pulpit for four minutes straight. If I had harbored any doubt that I may have misjudged David’s character, it evaporated that day. After hearing this sermon, Jack and her family decided they were done. Her husband said he would not return and she called the church office to have her name removed from the role.
If you would like to view that sermon it can be accessed by selecting the November 27, 2022 video at the following link:
Below is a listing of selected content:
He compares the issues that the church is currently experiencing with a time that his wife misunderstood a comment that he had meant as a compliment. He told her she looked like an elf. In his mind, he meant a Lord of the Rings-type, gloriously beautiful elf, she thought he meant a Keebler elf.
34:12 – 34:51:
“We were using the same vocabulary, but different dictionaries. When you use the same vocabulary, but you have a different lexicon by which to translate those words, let me tell you folks, you are prime for an eruption. […] … it can happen in a local church.”
He explains that he’s talking about this because this has happened at our church and he’s going to take responsibility for it.
“A few weeks ago I taught a youth Sunday School class on the Biblical doctrine of election. It was done haphazard. Not enough prep. And it wasn’t the right time. And therefore an eruption happened.”
[In retrospect, I believe the statement in red is the key to understanding what he’s actually saying. I believe, considering what he had been teaching from the pulpit for two years with no push back (see forthcoming part 5 of this series in which I explain with examples from his sermons why it is so difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with Calvinism to pick up on it), that he was confident that it would be fine to proceed with the youth in the manner that he did. He’s not expressing regret for his presentation. He’s saying that he now realizes that he jumped the gun. (See Part 1 which discusses published strategies for covertly reforming churches.]
“So today I hope to clarify, and I hope for us as a local body, that we can begin to clarify so that the enemy will not get a foothold. […] The confusion erupted and labels were used, terms were used, centering around this doctrine of election. Terms like Calvinism and Arminianism…Well, we’re not gonna do a deep dive into those terms because it’s not helpful, it is not going to help the clarification process.”
[Frankly, clarifying those terms is the only thing that would have been helpful in this process. That is, if your goal is to be clear with the congregation. It is my opinion, which I believe this evidence demonstrates, that he had different goals. He goes on for several minutes saying there are great theologians from both sides and we should all be unified because this is an intramural debate. This would be great if he didn’t follow this statement by asserting that Calvinism is the “Biblical”view. He has an odd strategy for promoting unity. See below.]
39:07 –about 50:00, then picks up again from 1:03:00 – 1:04:30:
He says we need to bring some clarity and the only way to do that is to go to Scripture. He says to get clarity on the doctrine of election, we need to go to the book of Acts chapter 16, which is the story of Lydia.
[This is a Calvinist proof text. The interpretation the he gives is the Calvinist view. Non-Calvinists disagree that this text teaches what David is saying that it teaches, and have their own interpretation which I believe is a much more coherent understanding of the text. The point is, he just spent several minutes telling us this is an intramural debate and that we need to be unified and not argue over secondary issues, only to proceed to “clarify” things to us by explaining that his view is the “Biblical” view of election (and he adds a side of compatibilist free will in there too), which, by default, insinuates that the opposing view is not Biblical. This is not promoting unity. It’s patronizing to those in the audience who understand what he’s actually doing here and it’s gross.]
52:00- about 56:00:
4 minutes of almost constant acapella singing.
“Church let’s put the daggers away. […] Let’s leave the Calvary communion table and battle together as a united front in this dark and unsavory world. See, we already saw in Acts 16 the enemy’s attempt to deceive and destroy. You say, what about his attempts to divide? Well, just a very few years later an argument arose in the Philippian church. And there were two women, Euodia and Syntyche, you can read about them in chapter 4. They were the camps. I don’t know. Maybe one was Arminian and one was Calvinist…”
[He might as well have just called out the names “Tiffany and Jack.” That’s the point I believe he intended to get across. Now that you have the full context, you can come to your own conclusions about the actual transparency and intent of David’s message.]
My Private Meeting with the Chairman of the Deacons and His Wife
After church, I met with my friend and her husband in a private room. I told my friend that I had been distressed to think that she might construe the events of the Wednesday night parent meeting as an unprovoked attack on David’s character. After all, she was my very first friend when we moved to Arab, and the reason I had worked up the nerve to join with a body of believers again.
Though I had mentioned at the Wednesday night meeting that David and I had been in conversation months prior, I knew that she and her husband could not understand the weight of it and the reasons that I had come to the conclusions that I had without seeing it with their own eyes. I had brought printed copies of my correspondence with David as well as the correspondence I had with the deacon back in late August/September so that they could see I had reached out to an authority.
They read it all, and I explained that I felt to my core that David’s actions were undeniably wrong. I told them that I knew that they were on the same page with David theologically, but that had nothing to do with the way he was treating me, Kane, Jack, the youth, and frankly the youth parents as well. I also noted that I felt that David’ statement at the end of his sermon that day telling the church to “put the daggers away,” followed by his telling of the story of the two women in the Philippian church who stirred up division, was a not-so-veiled reference to Jack and me.
In all transparency, I was also upset with both my friend and her husband, because I believed at this point that they, along with the rest of the pastor search committee, had both known that David was Calvinist when he was hired and had intentionally withheld that information. However, I did not bring it up at this meeting.
They expressed sympathy for me, agreeing that David had undeniably handled the situation poorly from the beginning. However, the chairman of the deacons said that he did not intend to involve himself in the situation. They asked if I thought there was any way that I could see myself staying at AFBC if perhaps David offered some kind of apology, and I replied that I just didn’t know at that point. I’d have to give it a lot of thought. It would be hard for me to trust his sincerity.
They both said they wished that our congregation as a whole could better understand what Calvinism is and I agreed with them wholeheartedly. I explained to the chairman of the deacons that another issue I had with David was his lack of clarity about his views from the pulpit. I believed that he had a responsibility to make his beliefs known. The chairman of the deacons told me that if David were to clearly tell the church what he believes from the pulpit, half of the congregation would get up and walk out. This casual statement took me aback, because it seemed clear to me that he didn’t mean that he thought that David should take the necessary steps to be clear. I understood him to mean that David should not do so: an ignorance is bliss sort of situation. There was really nothing left to say. My friend and I both shed tears and hugged.
I didn’t leave the room angry. At the time, I was just sad. It wasn’t until I had time to reflect on the conversation later that I got upset. Based on their statements, I came to the conclusion that they both knew he was intentionally obscuring his beliefs from the pulpit because our church would not accept him otherwise. I also concluded that while they seemed to express sadness that his treatment would likely result in my leaving the church, and while they agreed that his behavior was not appropriate, they were somehow okay with it all and continued to hold him in high regard. Despite all he had done and was continuing to do, they had chosen to support him anyway. I lost a lot of respect for them both that day.
To top off my meeting, I returned home to find Kane still furious from the day’s sermon. He had decided he would no longer support David and officially resigned from the tech team. I know this was hard for him, because being entrusted with this responsibility was very important to him.
Sometime in all these events, the youth pastor was struggling with how to address the issue of his confused youth after the abysmal failure of the parent meeting. David had refused to come back to clarify anything to the youth, and he was left holding the bag. He ended up giving a lesson on the Calvinist versus the non-Calvinist view himself, and apparently without David’s blessing.
I Send David My Email
The “Acapella Sermon,” David’s refusal to take any steps to promote unity, the meeting with the chairman of the deacon’s and his wife, and no indication that David was going to be held to account for any of it. I felt done. I opened the draft of the email I had written thoughtfully and with a clear head the week before, updated it to reflect my thoughts on his message from the pulpit that day, and hit send.
Jack Sends Her Email
A couple of days later, on November 29th, Jack sends her email to David, copies the chairman of the deacons and asks him to distribute it to them as well so that they can see what is going on. The chairman of the deacons does as she asked.
Jack also sent a text to the youth pastor requesting that she be allowed to come say goodbye to her youth group.
Frustrated with David’s refusal to allow her to say goodbye to the girls, Jack reaches out to the chairman of the deacons.
Jack and I had assumed this group of leaders he was referencing were the deacon body. Jack later discovered that it was not the deacon body. We do not know who comprised this “church leadership” the chairman of the deacons met with to levy this decision.
For Jack, this was a gut punch. She had been the only youth leader to consistently go to bat for the confused, distraught youth with regard to this issue. If not for her sheer persistence, David would never have consented to meet with the youth parents. He had actually tried every avenue possible to avoid it. Jack is the only reason he failed. Let’s not forget, at this time, Jack and I were the only ones putting ourselves on the line, fighting to get David to take steps toward true unity by calling him out for his refusal to even facilitate the presentation of non-Calvinist views to the youth- the majority position of our church! We were being painted as aggressors and he as the victim. Some people who knew this to be untrue did not speak up to counter the narrative being perpetuated by David and those sympathetic to him. It was truly unbelievable.
David Calls a Meeting with the Children’s Minister
At some point in the previous days, I had become aware that a deacon meeting had been scheduled. David had forwarded them the email I sent him and it is my understanding that many deacons were angry.
Since most of them were completely unaware of my interactions with David since August, and since (to my knowledge) the deacon I reached out to that same month and also spoke with in September did not disclose to the deacon body that I had done so, I was eager for the opportunity to present my side of the story. I still cannot fathom this, but at this point, there were still several who were not aware that David is Calvinist, much less how he had treated Jack and me.
I had tried unsuccessfully the week prior to get an email list of deacons. I didn’t want to reach out to the chairman of the deacons, because I didn’t trust him anymore. I asked the children’s minister if he would present my email correspondence with David to the deacon body if I forwarded it to him along with an explanation of my feelings. He was happy to do so. That email is below.
CM = children’s minister
On November 28th David called the children’s minister in for a meeting to discuss me. The deacon meeting had still not taken place. At that point, the children’s minister had been able to view the evidence that I sent him. He also brought the email that I had sent him to distribute to the deacons for David to view. I had served in the capacity of Sunday school teacher for a few years, and David wanted me out of that position immediately.
David asked the children’s minister what he thought of my email. He answered that he disagreed with my opinion of David’s character, but was on my side of the aisle with regard to the theological aspects. The children’s minister asked David why he did not present both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist views of election as the youth pastor had asked. David told him that he had intended to do that, but that Kane interrupted him so much that he ran out of time.
To this day, this is one of the most repulsive things that I believe David has done. Not only was it a completely different story than he had previously told, it was a blatant lie. He looked his children’s minister in the face and blamed a 17-year old kid for his mistake.
The children’s minister told David that he was not going to tell me that I couldn’t teach, and if David wanted me to be fired that he’d have to instruct him directly to do that. David asked the children’s minister, “Should I just leave?” He replied that that was not a decision he could make for him. David then asked him a few different times something to the effect of, “Are you saying it’s you or me?”
The children’s minister refused to say that. Then, David said that since I had stated in my email to the children’s minister that I could not “in good conscience continue to be a part of First Baptist Arab as long as Bro. David remains its pastor,” he required the children’s minister to tell me that I couldn’t teach. To this day, I believe that the reason David asked the children’s minister more than once in that meeting, “is it me or you?” is that he wanted grounds to fire him. That is my opinion.
Later that day, Jack told me that she had asked the chairman of the deacons to forward her email to the deacon body and that he had. I contacted the children’s minister’s wife and asked if he’d prefer that I do the same so that the responsibility was not on him to distribute my email and forwarded evidence to the deacon body. We agreed that was best. I sent my email to the chairman of the deacons.
He sent me the email below confirming his receipt of all my emails and affirming that he was distributing them to the body. He did not know that the children’s minister was also in possession of the same emails.
I Reach Out To the Chairman of the Deacon’s Wife Again
With my continuing revelations of David’s character, I was struggling to understand how my friend, the chairman of the deacons wife, could continue in her unwavering support of him. I reached out to her again on November 30th. That conversation is below.
My response to her was too long for a text, so I emailed it.
There have been many times in my life that I wish I’d extended more benefit of the doubt. This may be the only time I’ve regretted extending as much as I did. When I discovered later what her husband was in the process of doing that day (and I have no doubt she knew of his plans), I lost the respect I had for them both. The chairman of the deacons did not forward any of the emails to the deacon body. He lied to me. I believe he did so to hide what David had done and the admissions that he had made to me. The chairman of the deacons had no idea that the children’s minister, who is also a deacon, knew that he was supposed to forward that material to the deacon body and that he had come to the meeting with copies of the same material.
Also on November 30th, a church member (I’m not sure who), sent out a mass text inviting the whole church to hold a prayer vigil in the pastor’s yard. The text was addressed to the “church family,” and said that, “Our pastor, his family, and our church need our prayers” followed by a citation of Ephesians 6:17-18. Jack and I were not on the recipient list for that text.
Ironically, a church member who apparently wasn’t “in the know” (a lot of people weren’t at this point) noticed that Jack didn’t get the text and forwarded it to her, no doubt in a well-intended effort to be inclusive. I believe it was clear that whoever planned the vigil intended to portray the pastor as an innocent victim of an attack Jack and I were waging.
The Youth Pastor Reaches Out to Kane
The youth pastor reached out to Kane on November 30th as well. Their conversation is below.
I was upset because the three of us, myself, Jack, and Kane, were the subject of any number of ugly and untrue accusations I had heard floating around the gravevine. Some people that had evidence at that point to know better were leading others to believe that we were attacking David, and that this was primarily a scuffle about secondary theological issues that we had blown into epic proportions .
Kane was being painted by some to be a trouble-maker in youth for simply defending his views, which is something the reader may recall David promised me the youth would be welcome to do in his very first email to me. As far as I could tell, the deacon that I had initially reached out to had not ever breathed a word to anyone letting them know that I did. I now question whether he ever mentioned anything I said to any other deacons like he told me he would do. If he did he must have mentioned to one of the deacons who is of the opinion that questions should be buried, not addressed. I was exceedingly hurt that those who knew better, like the youth pastor, did not appear to be coming to our defense in the slightest.
I felt betrayed. I felt that they had betrayed Kane. I felt that if they couldn’t find they courage to defend the truth, they could find the time to train Kane’s replacement. Probably not my most proud moment. The conversation continues below.
This was the first we’d heard that we were being defended by anyone other than the children’s minister.
December 2022 – January 2023:
The Deacon Meeting
The deacons met on Thursday evening, December 1st. Jack and I were both hopeful that once the deacon body was able to see the situation in its entirety, we would be defended, and appropriate actions would be taken. I was waiting on the results of this meeting to decide if I was going to remain at AFBC or leave.
I know that the children’s minister was taken by surprise when he arrived to find that none of the deacons had the materials that the chairman of the deacons told me he had distributed to them. This put the children’s minister in the difficult position of having to relate the information from his own copies that he had brought. I know the meeting was several hours long.
The morning of December 2nd, Jack and I both received the text below from the chairman of the deacons.
I probably don’t have to explain that I was confused, angry and disgusted. I immediately forwarded my text the children’s minister’s wife. I could not understand how her husband could have put his support behind David with all that he knew. There are a few others in that room I was having trouble reconciling that verdict with as well.
Kane made the comment to me once that every time he thought he had come to rock bottom with respect to his assessment of David’s character, David busted out a jackhammer. That is a completely accurate articulation of my feelings. After all, David knew well what he had done, and he couldn’t even be bothered to reach out to us himself. Instead, he had his chairman of the deacons send a text for him and say that he would be willing to reach out to us IF we agreed to be willing to reconcile.
To me, this expressed a level of arrogance, condescention, and utter disregard for a sister in Christ that would be difficult to match. If any good leader thought that the conclusions I had come to about his character were based on complete misunderstanding, he would not rest until he had exhausted his ability to explain and repair the relationship, regardless of if I was willing to reconcile or not.
David’s character was becoming clearer to me by the day. I truly believe that the chairman of the deacons worded the text this way in hopes that Jack and I would feel so alone, hurt, discouraged, and angry that our departure from AFBC would be certain. To date, I have been presented no evidence to cause me to question that conclusion.
It wasn’t long before the children’s minister’s wife reached out to me and explained that the text was incredibly misleading. Some of the deacons were so concerned that they arranged a meeting for Jack and me to attend at the children’s minister’s house to more clearly convey the feelings of the deacon body. There were three deacons and their wives in attendance at this meeting. The best way that I know to describe this meeting is that these people made us feel that we were wanted, that they cared about us, that we mattered to them, and that the church body was incomplete without us. They let us know that they were not okay with how things had happened, and our valid concerns were not being dismissed. They told us that the number of people who felt that way about us wouldn’t fit in the room we were in. I felt all the emotions, and I’m pretty sure Jack did too. It was the first time in a long time that I hadn’t felt that AFBC considered me and my family completely disposable.
The deacons present explained that they wanted us to continue at AFBC, but at the same time, the deacon body wanted to give David the opportunity to make things right. We discussed Bible verses about forgiveness and extending grace in all circumstances, and it was explained that to go forward we’d need to participate in a reconciliation process with David. The reconciliation process would consist of David owning and apologizing for his errors, and Jack and I apologizing for some things we said in our letters, particularly accusations we had made about his character.
Full transparency: that stipulation gave me pause because I had no reason at that time to believe the conclusions I had come to about his character were incorrect.
It should be pointed out at this juncture, that the entire deacon body was now aware that David is Calvinist. Never once was this considered a reason to demand his departure. Instead, the goal was always to reconcile and move forward.
It had also come to my attention at some point prior to this (I cannot remember when), that the pastor search committee did not, in fact, know that David was Calvinist when they recommended him to the congregation. This came as a surprise to me, but it also cleared up some confusion that I had. I had assumed previously that David had been forthcoming with the pastor search committee. It turns out that that was not an accurate assumption.
I also knew that the chairman of the deacons, who was also on the pastor search committee (though not chairman of the deacons at that time), had known that David was Calvinist. As of this writing, it appears to me that the only member of the pastor search committee that knew David was Calvinist was the chairman of the deacons. If you’ll recall, it was also the chairman of the deacons who went alone to interview David initially, and the one responsible for asking him the “hard questions.” I felt horrible for accusing the pastor search committee as a whole of intentionally withholding that information. I now believe they had that information withheld from them as well.
I did feel convicted that as a Christian, it is my responsibility to extend grace even when it does not appear to be extended in the other direction. Jack felt the same and we agreed to comply with this reconciliation process which involved giving David the benefit of the doubt. Jack and I both expressed that we could do this, but that it would be on a trial basis with the expectation that we would see David act in tangible ways to support unity going forward. These were viewed as acceptable terms.
As a sidebar, I disclosed to the deacons present at that meeting that the chairman of the deacons had failed to distribute correspondence that I had sent to him for that purpose. They were not happy, and I was asked to forward evidence of this to one of the deacons there, which I did. I have not heard anything come of that to date.
Meetings, Meetings Everywhere
December 1st became the first of MANY deacons meetings. Judging from the frequency and length of the meetings, unanimity was not something easy to achieve.
Throughout this process a deacon (designated as “deacon 2” in the text below) I trust was assigned the role of communicating with me. This man and his wife have truly been a blessing to me. They have gone above and beyond to ensure that my family feels that we are considered valuable members of AFBC and to keep us informed to the best of his ability.
Also of note, on December 10th, David informed the children’s minister that they would not have worship kid’s style for the remainder of the year. (At AFBC, after Sunday school the kids (K5 – 6th grade) come to the sanctuary for announcements and worship. Afterward, the children’s minister and his wife take them back upstairs where he presents a kid’s level sermon of the same text David is preaching to the adults. They return at the end of service. Every 5th Sunday, there is a break from this and the kids sit with their families during service. )
My Reconciliation Meeting
My meeting was scheduled for Monday evening, December 12th, and my husband attended with me. In the days preceding my meeting, I received two bothersome reports. First, the pastor’s son asked Kane at school if we had found another church yet. Second, in the Wednesday night kid’s worship class, the kids had noticed my unexplained absence and asked where I was. David’s daughter answered quickly and confidently that I would not be back. This seemed to indicate to me, based on conversations his children were hearing at home, that David knew the outcome of my reconciliation meeting before I did.
The text detailing the meeting agenda is below.
Everyone went out of their way to make us feel comfortable, despite the fact that this was an unavoidably uncomfortable scenario for every person present. When the floor was opened for David to speak, he apologized for “being dismissive” of my concerns about the book initially. He also said that he should have pulled the book immediately.
He said that he intended to reach out to Kane and that he’d like to meet with him one-on-one if that was okay with my husband. To date he has never reached out to Kane for any such meeting.
His demeanor did appear to be one of genuine sincerity. I did not discern any hostility. That was it. He made no apology about anything else.
The floor was opened to me, and I apologized sincerely for falsely accusing the pastor search committee. However, that didn’t really help things because my apology to the committee entailed an explanation that I had realized they weren’t aware because David hadn’t been clear with them. I didn’t mention the chairman of the deacons. This meeting wasn’t about him.
I explained that I knew my letter was hurtful, but that I did not come to any of those conclusions about his character lightly or purely due to emotion, although coming to those conclusions surely involved feeling emotional. I told David that if I was mistaken in my interpretation of any of the events I had listed in my letter, then I was open and willing to hear him explain to me how I had misunderstood and I would offer my wholehearted apology.
What followed were a LOT of words from David. However, similar to the youth parent meeting, I felt that there was precious little substance in them. One thing he did clarify was that in handing out the Baptist Faith and Message section on election at the outset of the parent meeting, he had not intended to indicate that if we disagreed with his presentation of election that we were not in alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message (as I had interpreted), but to assert that his view could be encompassed under the umbrella of the Baptist Faith and Message as well. This sounded plausible to me, so I apologized for misunderstanding him and accusing him of being misleading there. That was the only event in my letter that he gave any sort of plausible explanation for, in my opinion. His tone remained friendly throughout.
It was clear that I was expected to apologize for accusing him of being misleading or gaslighting in other instances mentioned, but as I had not been given an explanation for those events, I could not alter my view of them. There was a lot of discussion about my using “labels” such as “Calvinism,” etc. Deacon 3 was particularly concerned with that. To be completely honest, that particularly objection is tiresome and irrelevant to me for reasons I’ve already explained in my email to the deacons. Generally, objections to the “labels” are for public relations reasons, not because they assign views that aren’t accurate. Despite this fact, a lot of time was spent discussing labels.
Deacon 3 told a story about how he had approached a pastor at one point in his life and asked for him to explain the sovereignty of God, which kept jumping out at him in his reading of Scripture. He said the pastor had told him that you can’t speak of that in a Baptist church, “you’ll get run out.” This was appalling to me, and I told him so.
Deacon 3 is also a youth leader. It did not occur to me in the moment, but when I was reflecting on the meeting the next day I realized that he had just perfectly illustrated my argument to David that the youth leaders desperately needed non-Calvinist resources to be able to accurately articulate non-Calvinist views. He had just shown that if a youth asked him to explain the non-Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty, he would be unable to do so.
At one point I explained that I have considerable difficulty with what I view as a lack of transparency about his beliefs with the congregation. Again, David said a lot of words, but nothing of substance. He seemed to be indicating that he was clear with me about his views because he thought we could “talk shop.” However, other people didn’t need to hear things “on that level.” I disagree, mostly because I believe this is insulting to their intelligence. Of course people can understand it if it is explained to them clearly, which as a pastor, is something he should be capable of doing. Therefore, I couldn’t grant him the acceptance of that explanation that I know he wanted me to give.
Toward the end of the meeting, David began speaking about his choice of book for the youth again. Remember, at the beginning of the meeting he had said he should have pulled it immediately. Now, he said that he still stood behind the book. Then he looked at me directly and said that at some level there needed to be an attitude of submission to his authority as pastor on those matters. This was said with absolutely no tone of malice in his voice, so it took me a bit to process what had been said. My husband looked at me, but David was already continuing on talking about something else. By the time he finished, my brain had moved on.
This was another instance that I was able to see more clearly in retrospect. Not only was it an incredibly tone-deaf thing to say in the context of a meeting in which he was supposed to be apologizing for breaching precisely that trust, he had actually just walked back the only thing he apologized for at the beginning of the meeting! Furthermore, I had submitted to his authority and said absolutely nothing else until the youth fiasco ensued.
Eventually, someone called a close to the discussion. It was very late and we hadn’t even started eating the meal deacon 2’s wife had prepared. It was agreed that progress had been made, but that we still had work to do. It was clear that David expected more from me, but I felt that I had extended all his responses had allowed me. I did make clear that I was willing to return to church, extending him the benefit of the doubt that things would improve over time. (Prior to this meeting, Jack and I had been told that we could not attend church.)
It should be noted again that David has not reached out to me at all either before or after this meeting. This seems to me to indicate that he has never had any true interest in reconciling with me. I believe he was doing what he had to do to appear “acceptable” to the deacon body.
Jack’s Reconciliation Meeting
Jack’s meeting was far more eventful than mine. Things occurred that were shocking to me, even after all the shocks we seemed to be getting on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. However, that is her testimony to tell.
Events After the Reconciliation Meetings
More and more deacons meetings continue to be held. Despite our cooperation in the reconciliation process, Jack and I were both informed that the deacon body as a whole would not consent to allow us to return to our teaching positions. I was told that while some deacons were happy for us to return to our roles, others were not. They wanted to see us return to church on a regular basis and join an adult Sunday school class.
Jack was told that David desired this because he felt that we had breached his trust. We both thought this was ridiculous. He had been the one to breach our trust, not to mention the trust of every youth parent in the congregation, not the other way around.
Considering the trajectory of Jack’s meeting and several other weighty factors, Jack decided for the final time that she was done. I don’t blame her at all.
On December 24th, David sent out an email letting the church know that he had decided to extend the hiatus for worship kid’s style at least through the first quarter of the new year. He had not discussed this with the children’s minister at all. It was a unilateral decision. The only notice that the children’s minister was afforded was an email that David sent him a matter of minutes before he sent the announcement out to the congregation. This trial basis of improved behavior was not starting out on a positive note.
At this point I could tell that something had changed within the context of the discussions occurring within the deacon body, because no one had breathed a word of any continued reconciliation meeting on my part. Deacon meetings continued to occur and the results shared with me were typically: hold on; it’s not over.
At the end of January, one of the adult Sunday school classes compiled a 16-question document that they requested David publicly answer. He refused to do so, but said he would speak to individuals one-on-one. Yet another deacon meeting was scheduled for the next Sunday, the 29th.
Sunday, January 29th, David resigned as senior pastor of AFBC. He gave the following reason for his resignation:
“Theological confusion over secondary doctrinal issues has escalated into a situation that makes this move the best for our family and this faith family. Please hear me clearly: I am neither assigning blame nor seeking to evade any blame that might justly be laid on my doorstep. I am simply trying to state, summarily, the reason for this heart-wrenching decision.”
Even at the bitter end, David seems not to be able to bring himself to perform any action to unify AFBC. To me, his words appear to be crafted with the intent of continuing to sow division with half truths and misleading statements. There is an element of truth in his statement that “theological confusion over secondary doctrinal issues has escalated into a situation that makes this move best for our family and this faith family,” but it obfuscates as much as it reveals, which is par for his course.
He seems to insinuate that he is having to make this “heart-wrenching” decision due to: 1) several individuals being confused about what he believes with regard to secondary issues (i.e., Calvinist, or “Reformed,” as he prefers to call it, doctrine of salvation), and 2) a significant enough number of members of our church being unwilling to accept him as pastor due to those beliefs. The preponderance of evidence that I have provided shows that this is a gross misrepresentation of the nature of the issues.
It is my opinion that David has never been willing to promote unity between the differing views in our church, because his goal has been to “reform” our church. I believe that he has gathered and groomed certain individuals to help him in this endeavor. I believe that once it became clear to him that he was not going to be able to run out or get rid of the individuals who would hold him accountable in promoting unity rather than continuing his attempt to reform the church via stealth strategies, he decided that it was no longer in his interest to remain here. I do not believe that he ever had any desire or intention whatsoever to reconcile with either Jack or myself. I believe that he intentionally promoted and encouraged a false narrative to be spread about both Jack and me, painting us as aggressors and himself as a victim. I believe he has continued to engage in these reprehensible behaviors despite the fact that he is destroying friendships and dividing our church into feuding factions.
2 Replies to “Anatomy of a Church Split: Part 4”
You write very well. I am not Familiar with the doctrine of the Baptist religion. However I am very familiar with the thoughts of people in general. Different understandings on biblical views is how most if not all religions were created. Most people attend a church for fellowship and good “stories” (for lack of better wording) from the pulpit. I myself struggle to understand most preachers interpretations of the scriptures, however that is something you will find in every corner of the world and from everyone living on it. Communication is one thing we all struggle with. I do understand your great level of education and the willingness to impart your knowledge and the deep need to have your children and others know the “correct” meaning of scripture and doctrine , it is (of corse in my opinion) important to be exposed to all interpretations of scripture and doctrine so one can “find” what they feel will lead them to God. In the end the path you choose to travel to God is a personal and “quite” one. With all this being unbelievably badly said it is possible for anyone, kids included to attend a church were the preachers words need to constantly redefined or corrected in the privacy of your own family by simply saying, “that preacher is an idiot”.
(Not meant to sway your position)
Thank you so much for your comment.
First, I want to let you know that I am in agreement with much of what you’ve said about differing views.
I do want to clarify my purpose in writing this series. It is to address particular scenario that is playing out specifically in Baptist churches currently: a pastor of a particular theological bent intentionally being vague about his beliefs in order to be hired by a congregation of the opposite theological bent with the goal of stealthily converting them to his views, disposing of the individuals who disagree. The means employed to achieve these goals are subversive, manipulative, and leave a trail of destroyed personal relationships in their wake.
It is this practice I am publicly opposing and nothing else.
This is occurring in epidemic proportions among Baptist churches due to lack of knowledge and understanding about the Calvinist belief system. Therefore, the point of my series is not to convince someone that my particular stance is correct, though writing about it certainly involves a defense of it. Rather, it is to explain what the Calvinist View actually is so that it can be recognized.
It is my hope that in offering clarity, some Baptist churches will be equipped to avoid the heartache and loss of precious friendships that comes part in parcel with these covertly strategized takeovers.
Also, in my discussions with my children to explain what we believe and why in distinction from the pastor, I have absolutely never done so in a way such that I accuse him of “being an idiot.” It is not necessary or appropriate to assume anyone is dumb or that they harbor nefarious intentions simply because they disagree.
I became aware of the nefarious intentions much later into his ministry.