Recently, the news within the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church movement has been dominated by Chuck Phelps and how he handled the alleged rape of a 16 year-old girl in his church years ago. ABC's 20/20 did a special report on Phelps. They also mentioned molestations in my wife's old church, Marquette Manor Baptist Church in Downers Grove, Illinois.
In the 20/20 report, a young fundamentalist preacher tried to convince the 20/20 reporter that because all of the IFB churches are independent, there was not a network, even an informal network, within the independent church movement.
Bob Bixby addresses the networking within the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI), a somewhat BJU-dominated organization, in an excellent post he calls Insider Gone Rogue? On the Supposed NON-Network of the Fundamentalists in 20/20. Bixby drops quite a few names, including David Gibbs, Jr., of the Christian Legal Association. Where there's trouble within fundamentalism, ol' Gibbs seems to be ready to defend anybody of anything within the fundamentalist orbit.
Some 20 years ago, I was excommunicated from Northside Baptist 'Church'. Coincidentally, the excommunication was held in a surprise meeeting two days before I was able to attend a scheduled examination of NB's financial records. When I asked if I could still examine the financial records, deacon/treasurer Barry Formanack, a BJU grad who now teaches accounting at BJU, told me I couldn't see the books because I was "no longer a member". Coincidence, I guess.
Later the preacher, John Stevens, was found to have been taking full church school scholarships for his daughter even though his employment contract forbade it. Stevens was a board member of the FBF back in those days. This paragon of virtue is now an FBF board member emeritus, a wise an trusted fundamentalist patriarch. In trouble, Stevens turned to David Gibbs, the CLA, and a network of preachers and churches that gave him financial and logistic support!
It's too bad that 20/20 didn't do an expose on Northside Baptist. Northside Baptist had it all!!! Sexual predators, financial shenanigans, fraud, religious abuse, front-page articles in the local paper, and a cover up or two, or three... The church parliamentarian, Eugene Stauch, was raping his 14 year-old daughter at the same time he was presiding over the preacher's many meetings, including the excommunication, in order to ensure everything was "fair". Fair ol' Eugene is out of prison now and is a registered SC Sex Offender, evidently a badge of honor amongst fundamentalists these days. And, he wasn't the only one in the church that liked little girls.
But this post is not about sexual predators or financial fraud by preachers and churches the Independent Fundamentalist movement. This is about networking within fundamentalism. Specifically, I would like to address the local religious network within the Charleston, SC religious community and address the way Victory Baptist Church, its preacher Tim Butler, its deacons, including Rickman Jackson helped John Stevens and Northside Baptist.
Then, there is Charleston Harbor Bible Church, now Charleston Bible Church and the actions taken by its elder, Curtis Bostic. Charleston Bible Church is a member of a different fundamentalist sect than Northside's FBFI. Charleston Bible is a member of the International Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA).
Then, strangely, Church Creek Reformed Presbyterian Church, led by elders Dean Ezell, Terry Clark, and my old school mate, Reverend John Olson, seemed to be drawn into the Northside support network. My wife, our children, and I attended CCRPC soon after we left Northside. We were tired of IFB churches with their easily manipulated congregational rule. We thought we would find safety in church government vested in a multiplicity of elders. We were wrong. They approached us two or three times about joining and having our children in 'the covenant' family of their church. If we felt like we were spiritually sodomized by John Stevens, his deacons, and Northside Baptist, we felt raped by John Olson, Dean Ezell, and Terry Clark.
But first, this is about "networking". Yes, of course, there was networking in the early church. Qualified, capable men within the Body of Christ were being recommended for positions because of their God-given abilities. One must know a man and his reputation before he recommends the man to others.
The networks that have developed today within Independent Fundamental circles are often centered around a strong personality and/or institution. These often develop into destructive forms of networking as was noted by Paul in I Cor. 1, "...there are contentions among you...I am of Paul; and I of Apollos...Is Christ divided?"
Networking becomes destructive to the Church when leaders view the Christianity and the Gospel as things to be branded, franchised, and niche marketed in an effort to promote one's school or ministry. The emphasis of their ministries turns from preaching the Gospel to expanding their power, marketing themselves, and defending their group's institutions and its leaders.
Jeremiah wrote about members of the network in his day in ch. 5: "They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?"
The Lord condemned this type of networking in Ezekiel 22, "There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof...they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things...Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain."
There are many crooks, charlatans, sexual predators, and religious tyrants within the leadership of Independent Fundamentalism. Is there a network that aids these guys in remaining members in good standing within Independent Fundamentalism? Yes. My experiences over the past 20 years with the good ol' boy system within Fundamentalism that turns a blind eye to multiple acts of wrong doing within the leadership of fundamentalism while vilifying those who point out that wrongdoing. The Pharisees were just prelude to today's Independent Fundamentalist leaders.