Quotes of the day:
"Idolatry is not simply the worship of a false god; it occurs whenever a purely human value becomes the chief focus of religious aspiration. In their concern to shore up their authority, Catholic officials are often guilty of institutional idolatry. But they are not alone. It is becoming increasingly unusual to hear any religious leaders frankly admit the failings of their own co-religionists."..."Religious leaders are basically politicians, and secular politicians also seem to find it impossible to apologise or admit error. But religious politicians are committed to ideals that fly in the face of this idolatry. Many of the founders of the great world faiths were iconoclasts who denounced the establishment of their day. The prophets subjected the kings of Israel to ruthless criticism and forced their people to face up to their own shortcomings." Cover-ups and Clutter Have Tainted Religion by Karen Armstrong
"The membership of Northside Baptist Church accepted a glowing audit of church records last month while rejecting another one that reported evidence of fraud and misappropriation of funds." Post and Courier, reporting on the self-justifying, cultic mindset of the members of Northside Baptist Church.
"...I was appalled. I was sickened. Why in the world would preachers or churches without anything to hide, go to such extent to keep people from finding out the truth about finances? It seems to me that they would not and someone who acted this way must have something to hide...." Robert L. Sumner, Editor of the Biblical Evangelist, commenting on the financial integrity of Bob Jones III's home church and the Northside Baptist scandal.
"[Pastor John] Stevens also said that, despite complaints to the contrary from Oscar Fitzhenry, one of the three who were excommunicated – the others are his son, Mark B. Fitzhenry, and Wendy Anne Fitzhenry, Mark’s wife – the church’s books have never been closed to any member.
'In front of several hundred people, from the pulpit, I invited him or any other member to see the books,' Stevens said, but since some of the records are on computer that was impossible.
Stevens said Fitzhenry was later denied access to the books, but that was after he had been excommunicated and, as a nonmember, had no right to see them..." Post and Courier, Stevens, an expert in the art of "timely excommunication," thinking he could fool non-cult members (ie., the general public) into thinking he really wanted to open his financial records but that "printers" had not yet been invented to print financial reports from an Indepedent, Fundamentalist Baptist computer!
"“Because I have been denied access to records that I feel necessary to complete a thorough and accurate audit,” [Russ McCall, Audit Committee Chairman and Northside Baptist "member"] wrote, “I cannot adequately perform the tasks that the congregation elected me to perform. Therefore, I resign from the Audit Committee effective upon the Northside Baptist Church congregation accepting this final report.” The Post and Courier
FUNDAMENTALIST BAPTIST CULTISM, FRAUD, AND MISAPPROPRIATION
How does independent fundamentalist Baptists "operate" without higher level temporal oversight? What seems to motivate independent fundamentalist Baptists? What kind of principles guide them? Do they operate under a clear biblical mandate or do they operate under a more pragmatic, relativist set of rules, perhaps the unwritten rules of "Cronyism" or "the good ol' boy network"? Do Fundamentalist Baptist act like they are members of a Cult at times? When faced with ethical corruption by one of their own, do they deal with it or ignore and accomodate it?
We have heard of the vaunted "character training" provided at Bob Jones University. What happens when a Bob Jones University graduate has to choose between doing right and standing for righteousness or keeping his or his wife's job at a church where his boss is doing evil? At Northside Baptist, under preacher John Stevens, it seemed that the price of the unconditional loyalty of a Bob Jones University graduate was a cheap polyester suit, a deaconship, a low-paying teaching job, or just an occasional stoke of the BJU'ers religious ego by preacher Stevens! And, those who weren't bought out by such little favors from Stevens were too spineless to stand up and oppose the evil being done around them for fear of being blackballed. Bob Jones University's "Character training?" That line doesn't sell Bob Jones University's educational product anymore. I've watched Mark and Janet Woodhall, Pastor and Mrs. Dennis Clements, former youth pastor at Northside, John Nelson, Mr. and Mrs. Barry Formanack, Bob and Edella Pagan, Pastor and Mrs. Bill Bethea, Dr. and Mrs. Cecil Beach, Bob and Beneth Jones III, Dean and Roxanne Jones Robinson, Rev. Craig and Jeanette Snook, Rev. Timothy Butler, and observed that as religious as they may seem, little is sacred to these types of people beyond their own self-interests.
How does Dr. Bob Jones III react when one of his cronies within the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International board, John Stevens, is accused of stealing money from his home church by overspending his church-provided credit card and taking a 100% school tuition discount for his daughter that was specifically forbidden in his employment contract. This didn't raise concern within the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. One wonders if the silence of the normally outspoken preachers within the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International means they consider it a professional perogative to 'help themselves' to church assets and perks.
Those who have read past posts in this blog have read repeated accounts of how Dr. Bob Jones III employs pragmatic expediency in every facet of his religious and business life. Dr. Bob Jones III seems to have calculated every position he has ever taken by figuring out how each position would affect Bob Jones University. Dr. Bob Jones III would never censure a disorderly preacher who evidenced personal loyalty to himself or institutional loyalty to Bob Jones University. The message Bob Jones III sent during the scandals at Northside was, 'Keep those students coming to Bob Jones University, John Stevens, and you can run Northside Baptist Church anyway you want!' That message was not lost on Bob Jones III's Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International's membership.
How do separatist independent fundamentalist Baptists deal with those within their own ranks who engage in dubious activities? Do they wink at a crony's sins while they are blasting other men outside their group for relatively minor indiscretions? Absolutely.
How do they react when one of their own leaders is caught in the unauthorized taking of that which is not his property from one of their associated churches, like maybe a tuition discount or some extra charges on the ol' church credit card? Is that sort of thing condoned amongst the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International group as kind of a "perk" that goes along with being an 'independent fundamentalist' with no outside accountability? Do separatist independent fundamentalist Baptists, say those within the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, apply their Biblical ethics and separatist standards selectively?
PERSONALITY CULTISM AND INSTITUTIONAL IDOLATRY
I've been involved in the independent fundamental Baptist/Bible church movement for over 45 years, from the time I was 7 years old. I have concluded that Personality Cultism and Institutional Idolatry are the twin coins of the independent, fundamental Baptist realm, whether it is in a local church, a school, a ministry, or an organization like the FBFI. As long as one preacher within the FBFI doesn't cross another preacher within the FBFI, they will wink at each other's wrongdoing. As long as each preacher adopts Dr. Bob Jones III's latest thinking and sides with Bob Jones III in his latest controversy, he will be welcome in the group. All of them know that if they deviate from Dr. Bob Jones III's script, they will be blackballed from the BJU-sect of fundamentalism. As the independent, fundamentalist movement dwindles and the corruption becomes more widespread, the demands for Personal Loyalty and Institutional Idolatry will increase.
Thus, it does not matter what the top man at an FBFI-type church does (or does not do). Biblical principles can be twisted or ignored to accomodate a host of evil within independent Baptist fundamentalism. That is the importance of the story about Dr. Bob Jones III's church, Northside Baptist Church, and Bob Jones III's hand-picked preacher, John Stevens.
It is instructive to note that both Bob Jones III and John Stevens are board members Emeritus of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International and that the FBFI leadership. At the time of this scandal, Rod Bell was the president of the FBF. (Rodney Bell has since resigned because of an apparent drinking problem.) But, the FBF membership were mailed informational copies of the financial scandal surrounding John Stevens, including offers to drop the civil suit if Mr. Stevens would grant access to his church financial records.
While the good Reverend Stevens refused to open his books - and for good cause it turned out - it seems like a man who had a clear conscience would simply say, "Here are the records, Mark. Knock yourself out and if you have any questions, leave them on the desk, turn out the light when you are done and we will get the answers to all your questions ASAP." That sort of open-handed approach seems consistent with Biblical teaching to "Provide things honest in the sight of God and men." But this is not how independent fundamentalist Baptists operate.
And, Bob Jones III was well-aware of the nature of his hand-picked preacher, John Stevens. In fact, at Bob's request, Russ McCall, the chairman of the Audit Committee at Northside, mailed a copy of his "negative audit" to Dr. Bob Jones III. Dr. Bob Jones III was aware of the doings of his preacher, John Stevens, and has never once rebuked John Stevens for his actions as preacher at Bob and Beneth Jones III's home church, Northside Baptist.
Dr. Bob Jones III has shown himself in the past to be driven by pragmatic expediency. The Northside Baptist situation is just one more example of the fact that Jones III will wink at any sin or perversion within BJU's supporting orbit so long as a benefit can be derived for himself or Bob Jones University. So long as John Stevens demonstrated personal loyalty to Bob Jones III by having Bob speak at Northside, by hosting fund raisers and student drives, and showed institutional loyalty to Bob Jones University by plying it with students, he could run Northside Baptist anyway he wanted, even to the point of invoking the name of Jesus Christ in the excommunication of members seeking to review Northside's financial records. Nothing could be more unbiblical and nothing will corrupt the fundamentalist movement more rapidly than this sort of biblical connivance, this professional courtesy amongst fundamentalist leaders wherein they mutually ignore each others sins and abuses.
There seems to be an unwritten code of "ethics" amongst independent, fundamentalist preachers that they each defend one another. If you rebuke one of these fundamentalist darlings, the rest of the fundamentalist preachers will attack you like a pack of dogs. And, that message is heard loud and clear amongst Bob Jones University-associated pastors and churches across the United States. It should be no surprise that most of the Bob Jones University-trained or related preachers and church members who want to remain in BJU's fundamentalist orbit act like members of a nationwide personality cult.
This is how Northside Baptist's and John Stevens' financial accountability was reported in the local paper.
From: The News and Courier, Charleston, SC
By: Skip Johnson of the Post-Courier staff
BAPTIST CHURCH VOTED AGAINST NEGATIVE AUDIT
The membership of Northside Baptist Church accepted a glowing audit of church records last month while rejecting another one that reported evidence of fraud and misappropriation of funds.
Both reports, dated April 19, were products of a three person in-house audit committee headed by Russell McCall. McCall wrote the report that alleged the problems, while committee members Ron Brooks and Mach Cornett submitted the complimentary version.
McCall explained in a cover letter accompanying the reports, copies of which were obtained by the Post-Courier, that two versions were needed because committee members could not agree on the intent of the audit, interpretation of the facts it gathered or how specific the committee should be in presenting its findings.
“Because I have been denied access to records that I feel necessary to complete a thorough and accurate audit,” he wrote, “I cannot adequately perform the tasks that the congregation elected me to perform. Therefore, I resign from the Audit Committee effective upon the Northside Baptist Church congregation accepting this final report.”
The 800-member church, and independent Baptist congregation in Charleston Heights that has an annual budget of $1.7 million, has been embroiled in controversy in recent months over reports of misappropriation of funds and other financial problems. Three members of one family were excommunicated in January after making repeated demands to see the books, and they have sued to force a full audit of the books.
McCall’s report said that in addition to fraud and misappropriation the committee found evidence of violations of the church constitution, non-adherence to written policies, creation of policies without proper authorization and apparent favoritism in the disbursement of funds to staff members.
The majority report, however, concluded that no evidence of dishonesty or misappropriation was found during the course of the audit.
The majority report also said much of the confusion over accounting was a result of changing accounting systems. It added: “We feel that it is fitting to say that our present officers and staff have done an outstanding job in handling this change.”
It praised the audit report of Dr. Robert F. Vallier for the year ending June 30, 1990, as being very helpful in helping the church set up a new accounting method.
McCall’s version of the audit, however, included a quote from a Jan. 18 letter signed by Robert S. Shelley, special investigator for the South Carolina Board of Accountancy: “Robert F. Valier is not licensed under the S.C. Accountancy Law, nor is his business registered with us. Based upon a review of his brochure and “independent auditor’s suggestions,” we believe him to be in violation of the S.C. Accountancy Law.”
Church pastor Dr. John E. Stevens said Vallier, who never spoke to several key church leaders including the church treasurer, was to have been paid by a love offering. Instead, however, McCall’s report said he was paid a flat fee of $1,500 plus expenses.
McCall’s version of the audit also found other discrepancies not mentioned in the majority report. Among them:
• A special fund set up to aid Northside Christian School teachers in emergencies was spent for other purposes. In one instance, Stevens spent money from the fund to take a couple to dinner. In another, a pastoral staff member was given, without authorization, two suits at a cost of $461.32.
• Stevens and his staff were given 100 percent discounts on tuition for their children to attend Northside Christian School, which the church owns, even though the pastor’s employment package specifically forbade such a practice. In addition at least two other families were allowed free or half-price tuitions in violation of school policy.
• Several instances were documented showing staff members were hired without the knowledge or approval of the deacons or church. In one instance the auditing committee was told a person was doing volunteer work for the church and school but in reality was being paid initially via the petty cash fund and then placed on a monthly salary.
• Designated finds sometimes were not spent according to donors’ wishes.
• Although the only person authorized to have a church credit card is its pastor, four other staff members had them, and the pastor consistently overspent his limits.
Stevens declined to comment Thursday on McCall’s version of the audit because church members had voted to accept only the majority report.
Stevens did say the three family members who were excommunicated last January were expelled because they had been making unfounded accusations against some church leaders regarding their handling of church funds and because they were refusing to cooperate in the system.
All Baptist churches are autonomous and set their own rules for excommunicating members. At Northside, a vote of the congregation is all that is needed to excommunicate, which means the person is expelled from church membership.
Stevens also said that, despite complaints to the contrary from Oscar Fitzhenry, one of the three who were excommunicated – the others are his son, Mark B. Fitzhenry, and Wendy Anne Fitzhenry, Mark’s wife – the church’s books have never been closed to any member.
“In front of several hundred people, from the pulpit, I invited him or any other member to see the books,” Stevens said, but since some of the records are on computer that was impossible.
Stevens said Fitzhenry was later denied access to the books, but that was after he had been excommunicated and, as a nonmember, had no right to see them.
Fitzhenry declined to comment on anything regarding the suit or his participation in the church.
Stevens also said any member has the right to make an appointment to see the church records and some have taken advantage of that offer. None, however, as delved deeply into the books.
“We even called some people who had questions and invited them to come look at the books,” he said.
Despite the controversy, Stevens said, he has detected no hint of a split in the church.
“There’s a lot of hurt but no split,” he said.
Another church member, Thomas Kisling of Mount Pleasant, agreed with that assessment.
“I think most members are just waiting to see what happens,” he said.
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