Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC) and Bethlehem College and Seminary in the Twin Cities, along with Desiring God Ministries, is fundamentalist evangelical religious program characterized by the leadership and thought of pastor and professor John Piper. The Church existed prior to his pastorate (1980-2013), while the College, Seminary (both BBC affiliates) and Desiring God Ministries were established under his direction. In addition to these local, national, and educational arms, he is known for his ethical and theological views (which are perpetuated in these institutions), such as “Christian hedonism,” unconditional marriage (and with it endurance of physical spousal abuse), female subordinationism (“complementarianism”), staunch Calvinism, and committed advocacy and admiration of American theologian and slave-holder Jonathan Edwards. Piper’s impact on (and support from) American evangelicalism in the last quarter century is immeasurable.
This past week (on August 20, 2021), Christianity Today published a lengthy article authored by journalist Kate Shellnut entitled “Bethlehem Baptist Leaders Clash Over ‘Coddling’ and ‘Cancel Culture’.” It follows on the heels of an earlier article (August 3) by the Roys Report entitled “Former Bethlehem Baptist Pastors Say Church’s Culture Breeds Fear, Tolerates Abuse.” Both articles covered various dimensions of conflict and abuse occurring at the church and college/seminary in the wake of three pastors resigning the previous month. Jason Meyer, Piper’s successor, was one of them.
Much concern has risen from the fact that a disciple of Christian cult leader Douglas Wilson, Joseph Rigney, is now the President of the Bethlehem Seminary. Wilson’s program is almost a duplicate of Pipers; he has his own church (Christ Church), denomination (CREC), school (Logos school), and college (New Saint Andrews) in Moscow, Idaho. However, Wilson’s fundamentalism is even more extreme (no time to here elaborate). Regardless, these two religious groups of northern North America (Piper’s world and Wilson’s world) have supported each other on various occasions. (If you’re interested in this subject of cults in the Idaho/Montana/South Dakota/Minnesota region, be sure to read this AAR conference presentation here.)
Many readers who (1) were either interviewed by Shellnut for the article, or (2) were first-hand participants at the church/seminary/ministry, were perturbed and/or angered particularly by the August 20 CT article’s treatment of them/others who were negatively affected by staff and activities at the church and seminary. Having no other voice, they took to Twitter (a public forum where anyone can say almost anything) to both shed light on what was really happening, and/or express their frustration. By the 26th of August, John Piper responded on Twitter (see below) to the entire ordeal in a way that shocked almost everyone.
These critical responses were helpfully compiled by Chloe on Twitter, who (with her family and spouse, a Bethlehem graduate) was directly and negatively affected by Piper’s program. This list of responses include the testimonies of other graduates, church members, and even professors from Bethlehem college/seminary. I’m recompiling these responses that were published within 72 hours of the article (to reduce editorial bias) for (1) convenience to readers (one document instead of countless sub-replies of 280 characters), (2) “for the record,” reducing the chances of losing the primary sources over time; (3) to make it more difficult to ignore (because of the sheer volume and nonsense of what is posted on Twitter, it is sometimes easy for onlookers to recognize and appreciate authentic testimony; this was in fact, one of the primary ways in which Piper later dismissed the whole ordeal—by criticizing “Twitter”); (4) because, as Cornel West put it, it is the job of the intellectual to put the voices of the suffering on the agenda of those in power. Until the needless suffering and trauma ends, the voices cannot be too loud.
While I’m just compiling and editing sources, readers should also know that I’m not an impartial spectator to these events. While I was not a direct victim or a member of BBC or graduate of the seminary, I was inundated with Piper’s material throughout my career as a professor of Christian Studies and as a child of baptist, conservative evangelicalism. I was also an associate pastor of a baptist church whose senior pastor adored Piper and took me to the “Pastor’s Conference” at BBC in 2010. I never understood membership envy and comparisons, or the pastor celebrity culture (pastors would joke about getting “pixie-dust” walking past John Piper’s suit jacket). At any rate, I witnessed much of the spiritual abuse firsthand in the church where I served, including needless church discipline, sermon plagiarizing (from Piper’s books), misogyny, and domineering behaviors involving firings and resignations (eventually including my own).
The culture of this religious world was notably particular. When I was hired, the first question was “are you reformed?” When I had applied at another church in eastern South Dakota, the first question was “Are you a complementarian?” (Not, “so do you think you really love people?” or “What exactly do you want to accomplish?”) These doctrinal dogmas were not ornamental, but litmus tests of orthodoxy. I would later witness, in countless ways, how they were also weapons in the hands of white American men insecure about their grip on power (whether over their families or over their congregations). I documented many of these in my book Deconstructing Evangelicalism. At any rate, I’m glad it only lasted a few months instead of years like as it did with others. (I still have a letter from members of the congregation who apologized for the way I was treated at the church by the pastor; though, I highly doubt I was treated as bad as others. Yes, my larger journey was bad, but I have it good.)
It should be mentioned that eye-witness testimony is also the most important and reliable source for any human experience—precisely because it simply is human experience, interpreted and disseminated for others to understand. And all testimony must be interpreted in light of others’ testimonies, just as we piece together a mosaic or puzzle to get a bigger image that’s more clear. I think there will be many people who refuse to even read this material, because it’s all just “complaining,” and “angry hot air,” or whatever. “Everyone sins,” after all. “No church is perfect,” etc.
On the contrary, what you’re about to read is an avalanche of direct, personal, eye-witness testimony that has negatively shaped people’s lives so profoundly that most of this material was disclosed for the first time—all within a 72 hour period. It is clear that the discourse and conversation about abuse within Piper’s world gave permission to those who were previously suppressed, or were in too much fear to reveal the truth. In other words, if there is any kind of voice and testimony that cannot and should not be ignored, it is this kind.
Final editorial notes:
- Any changes or significant restructuring of texts of these posts are indicated, though I usually removed post index markers (like “(1/3)” etc.).
- I did not fix typos or touch texts except to format and reorganize.
- When explanatory notes about text order and sequence of events are necessary, these are clearly indicated as well.
- I have also had to be selective in sorting through what are sometimes masses of unending material that sprawl beyond the initial responses. It is impossible to be exhaustive, so what you get is merely a snapshot.
- Paragraph breaks are also my choice, but no single tweet was (to my knowledge) split into a paragraph break.
- I apologize in advance for any errors in arranging. I will correct major errors if there are any. (August 28 Update: I somehow failed to include Nirmal Mekala’s comments from August 20, so I’ve added them below)
Thanks again to Chloe for her labors in copying/pasting so much heart-breaking material. In reading all of this stuff myself (not infrequently having to pause from a sick stomach or grief), it’s all the more evident just how important it is in not just listening, but in understanding the mechanics of the evangelical-industrial complex, and the corrupting influence of “divinely authorized” structures of power.
Nirmal Mekala (@NirmalMekala)
It’s ironic to me that this article paints leadership that ignored an 85 page report from its minorities and dismissed ~350 pages of evidence re: abuse as concerned about preserving truth.
Doesn’t that kind of painstaking documentation reflect a high regard for truth? And doesn’t hastily dismissing it seem emotionally driven?
Couple more things:
“In the end, seven of the 17 original members of the task force ended up leaving Bethlehem, which some elders saw as confirmation that their misgivings about the group were justified.”
Right, but 4/5 lay minorities left.
Also… that awkward moment when you find out in the newspaper that you left your church and all your pastors said, “good riddance.” Woozy face
I’d recommend @reachjulieroys coverage. Her articles outline the two large reports I mentioned and many more vital details about what’s happening at BBC.
In light of the recent article on Bethlehem Baptist Church by @CTmagazine, I’ve decided to share my own story to support the victims of spiritual abuse whose stories CT sorely misused.
Over the course of the eight years that I attended Bethlehem Baptist Church (almost five of which I was employed there) I began to hear stories of pain, spiritual abuse, and neglect. I became increasingly aware of the oppression that BIPOC and women saints have experienced there. After attending the elder meeting in which the justice initiative group proposed a Task Force with the purpose of considering the eldership pipeline’s process and why the church leadership was so white when the downtown neighborhood it resides in is so diverse, I became incredibly disenchanted with Bethlehem. I sat there and heard my leaders say words that were crushing. I watched as some of the leaders who I thought were justice minded remain silent while louder opposing voices spoke freely. The Task Force was allowed to move forward, but had to edit the representees that were being proposed to the elders to also include elders themselves.
Over the course of intense research the findings were finally brought forward and ultimately dismissed. It was due to how this group was treated that I could no longer stay at Bethlehem in good conscience. However, these Task Force sisters and brothers stories and the stories of so many who have left Bethlehem are not mine to tell. What I can share is only my own experience.
While I was employed as the librarian at Bethlehem I, with the help of fellow church members, founded the Library Advisory Board and started our Ethnic Harmony book clubs. I worked with people who would eventually serve on the Task Force and together, we created the Race 101 book club. In the two years that followed, I witnessed just how much Bethlehem’s leaders demand control. We had some pastoral turnout for the first summer’s book club, but the second was the most confusing. Pastor Jason sponsored it and we continued to invite pastors and elders to come join us – even taking notes so that what we discussed was public knowledge for anyone who would like to participate/process with us and couldn’t be there – something we also sent to leadership. The four book club leaders at the downtown campus were all on the Task Force.
For the entire summer, not a single pastor or elder attended any of the second year’s downtown book club meetings. From what we heard, the book club was regarded with concern, yet not a single elder or pastor came to check in. After the book club ended, the book club leaders had a meeting with Pastor Jason and Ming-Jinn. It was at this meeting that I learned that Pastor Jason was concerned about the book we had chosen (Many Colors by Soong-Chan Rah), and was frustrated that he was not consulted about it before we listed his name as sponsoring pastor.
This was confusing as he chose to call-in to our planning meeting where he voiced support, gave us the book club name and asked to be the supporting pastor. He was in contact with one of the attending Task Force members the whole evening and there was no way that I could have known that the book choice wasn’t communicated to him. When I asked why I wasn’t contacted with this concern, the response was that there was miscommunication. I was unsatisfied with this response, as no one had ever contacted me with regard to the book club. I would have hoped that if he and the other pastors and elders had been concerned, they would have reached out to me just once. The book club ended with this single meeting, even though the pastors and elders never came to see why we loved it and why BIPOC and women attendees gave it good reviews and said that it was a really healing and helpful space. All the work we had done was completely disregarded, and no one seemed to register that I, as the librarian, was the go-to person for any questions or concerns about the book club. I was cut out of the process for something I planned, scheduled into our church database and frequently sent emails to pastors and staff in regards to. In one of our preceding staff meetings, Pastor Ming-Jinn voiced frustration over our congregation’s lack of initiative and leadership, expressing his wish that they would grow in those things. I sat in that meeting and thought of the Task Force and the Book Club initiatives and how they had been initiatives congregants had dreamed up and acted upon that ultimately were discouraged, shut down and disbanded.
Another time that I was completely disconnected from my direct work was when I was trying to evaluate our library’s section on “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. It was recommended to me that I send an email to all of our pastors and staff for help before making any decisions, which I did. I mentioned in the email that I wanted to reevaluate this part of the collection and take out outdated material. I was hoping to take out authors like Doug Wilson, and also hoping for some input on some healing and loving potential additions.
Pastor Sam Crabtree responded to this email with frustration and not only assumed that I was questioning Bethlehem’s views on Complementarity, but he cut me out of the conversation entirely, only addressing the pastors in his response. When I spoke to my supervisor, Joby Morgan – who is also head of HR, about this, she told me that he was probably just having a bad day, to which I responded that his unprofessional behavior shouldn’t be excused by a bad day. She responded to my push-back by asking how long I’d been friends with Stephanie Denzer, another staff member. This really hurt, not only because Stephanie is a dear friend and someone who had been addressing issues at Bethlehem, but it communicated to me yet again that my intellect was of no value and that I couldn’t think for myself or be addressed as an individual.
She directed me to go to the North Campus and talk with Pastor Sam alone. I did so and the conversation ended with him allowing me to take Doug Wilson’s books out of the collection, and then he remarked that if I ever had questions again to “simply ask” – which had been the intent of my original email. I’ve also had many experiences of sexist treatment from the congregation while working alone at my library tables in their commons. One such experience was being asked if the only good I was worth was to sit there and look pretty. Another time a man asked me how old I was, if I was married and — upon hearing that I was not —to tell him “honestly” if my parents were ashamed of me. After I received this particular comment at one of the church locations, I asked a friend of mine who attends that site if she’s ever heard such comments. She told me she hears them all the time and has just learned to tune them out. In my experience at Bethlehem I’ve found that misogyny is thriving, and yet I never heard it addressed or named. I never saw any training on it, either as a congregant or an employee.
In my resignation letter I requested that an external party review and train Bethlehem on misogyny and all of its nuances, just as they had GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christan Environment) and Kyle Howard come to address other issues of power abuse.
I knew, however, that this request wouldn’t be taken seriously not only because of how I had never been taken seriously, but by how GRACE, Kyle Howard, the Task Force and any other group, organization or individuals who attempted to hold Bethlehem accountable was eventually dismissed by the leadership.
Steven Takata (@steve_takata)
Andy Naselli to BCS, 2/11: “And then I started to hear the motion and I’m like, ‘this is Johnathan Bowers 2.0,’ … So I thought, ‘I’m going to go jump on the grenade.'” His words to us on 3/10: “I’m not convinced that I sinned against you. I had zero ill intent against you.” Here are the 6 charges that we knew to address on 3/10. We found out about more later. We sent all of these to @kateshellnutt
- He sinned by attacking instead of shepherding, counter to 1 Tim 3:1-3 and Titus 1:7-8.
- He sinned by explaining and denying instead of seeking to understand, counter to James 1:19.
- He sinned by using his position of power to twist the intent and clear purpose of our words during the QSM and in an email to the church congregation, for shameful gain and domineering as Peter warns against in 1 Peter 5:1-5.
- He falsely accused us, gossipped about us and slandered us in private meetings with other members of the church. This is also not in line with 1 Tim 3:1-3 or Titus 1:7-8.
- He looked for an offense rather than overlooked an offense. Proverbs 19:11
- He also sinned by apologizing to us with no admission of guilt, insufficient acknowledgement of the impact of his actions, and a lack of patience, forbearance, peacemaking and charitable judgement toward us. James 5:16
What started as an email, became a 5 page letter to Andy. Less than a week later, on 3/16, the @hopeinGod elder council, in executive session, calling no witnesses, dismissed all the grievances of 13 BBC members as “not true or substantial.”
(Side note, @hopeinGod elders will dispute the number 13. A single woman’s letter was excluded because it did not have two signatures. Another member’s was excluded because of some technicality instead of the elders seeking clarification, etc.)
This then became 17 pages of grievous behavior from Andy and other BBC elders that we documented and read to the council on 4/6. Those 17 pages were deemed 95% accurate by 2 pastors in representing the behavior of the elder council.
The 17 pgs were revised and edited to be 19 pgs of 100% verified, and corroborated sinful and grievous behavior by multiple elders.
At every step of this process we have called for and prayed for repentance. Every step we were asking God, what next? We’ve been seeking to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit at every turn. This is now the “tell it to the church” stage.
I will close this particular thread with the closing paragraphs of our letter to Andy on 3/10. This tone and call applies to all those involved.
Hilary Engel (@hilary23lynn)
As a single woman in a Calvinist, compelmentarian church, spiritual abuse is [sadly] all but guaranteed. I have never shared my story of spiritual abuse, because I didn’t think it was good enough. I believed [the lie] that my experiences didn’t matter and that I was just “too sensitive.” That belief in and of itself was the result of abuse. I was taught that my emotions were the enemy and to not feel. I was told and shown over and over, in a plethora of ways, that if I couldn’t justify a feeling, it wasn’t valid.
In fact, I remember being told at one point to “leave the platform” while singing on worship team because I was crying and it may be “distracting” and “uncomfortable”
My BBC ties run deep and are incredibly personal. Were there wonderful people who both came alongside me and shepherded me when I needed it most? Absolutely. I trust that any of those individuals who may, at some point see this, will know that this isn’t about them. That said, abuse can still exist—and even run rampant—despite the presence of loving, wise, God-honoring individuals.
Behind the scenes, I was told how I was gifted and called to serve and LEAD the church. In public? You would have never known it.
Singing is my passion. I prefer to sing in more of a free, gospel and spiritual style. But at my church, I was told to “reign it in.” I was repeatedly told that I was “too much” and that no one “knew what to do with me.”
All I wanted to do was serve Jesus and his people, but I couldn’t do that without facing incredible scrutiny. So slowly but surely, I changed.
I changed how I sang. I stopped praying out loud, because I had been made to believe that as a woman, that was controversial. What’s more, I was always on edge when reading scripture, especially out loud, because I was afraid that someone would think I was preaching—and there was NO way I could do that. Ever. Not as a woman.
The worst part? While the lies took hold and became truth, I was still being reassured about my gifts and told that I should “just stick it out” because “change was coming.”
There was a long, hard season when I was rarely empowered, but was often left feeling like a sacrificial lamb. It was an entire season of gaslighting.
After leaving that environment, I am starting to be able to understand the toxicity. I am healing. And that looks different for everyone.
For me, that has included things like getting rid of an ESV Bible, and getting a different translation. It has meant attending a church that meets me in my hurt, and encourages me to lead. It means learning to trust myself and my intuition after years of being told it was wrong.
And it means realizing that even though a church failed me, God never has—and He never will.
Lastly, thank you to those who’ve courageously shared their BBC and BCS truths. I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You have given me the strength to reflect and bring my experience to light. To name a few:
Plot twist, I’m not done verbal processing. Although, the fact that I have a sudden urge to explain myself underscores how much the lies have taken hold as truths. Thanks, trauma.
These are just *some* of the ways that I experienced spiritual abuse. And yet… This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the other reasons I left, which largely concern the suffering and abuse that I saw others endure.
Not only was BBC a place where I didn’t feel safe or like I could flourish, but it was an environment where countless others couldn’t either. And that? That isn’t the church. And it certainly isn’t a reflection of the Gospel and what Jesus would have done.
Jeffrey Hall (@jeffrey_hall2)
Another significant omission in the CT piece: when I brought forth complaints mentioned below to @BCS_MN and @hopeingod from twelve alumni and current students about a professor’s misconduct, the academic dean (also a pastor) effectively threatened me with a defamation lawsuit.
The intellectual disagreements matter, but the piece misses more serious consequences caused by the callousness of pastors and seminary professors who misused positions of authority to intimidate, demean, and crush those who brought forward concerns and grievances in good faith.
Karl Grant (@karlmgrant)
The situation at Bethlehem Seminary is this: you get a bunch of young men who are at a point in their life where they feel a calling to serve Jesus and His church. Like—this is what God made me to do!
We were very earnest and vulnerable, in a place of submission to men who were not just our professors but our pastors. A lot of us were hungry for exactly that kind of relationship. We were told that the guys teaching us, whatever the subject matter was—‘they love you. They care about you.’ And most of them clearly did. I could name so many men who were fathers to me and to my classmates. Men who met this standard. At the institution’s direction, we were supposed to submit ourselves to our professors as spiritual authorities.
This is why I said “I used to wonder if I was too soft. Now I wonder why Andy was so harsh.” We were led, by careful institutional craft, to believe this man was a loving older brother who deeply and personally cared for us. Which meant that when he chose to steamroll us—on theology, exegesis, logic, grammar, even pronunciation (if you know you know), it hurt. And if *you couldn’t prove to him* that he had sinned against you, he wouldn’t ask for forgiveness. Read that again. Remember the asymmetrical relationship set up between us. And with Andy, you could never prove anything. Unless it was something he already was convinced of.
That’s like getting punched in the face by a guy who refuses to apologize because you can’t produce an x-ray showing your nose is now broken. Doesn’t matter that you’re obviously hurt.
In fact, he’s even acknowledged hurt but clarified that he’s not asking for forgiveness.
“I’m sorry for X.”
“That’s okay, I forgive you.”
“No, I wasn’t asking for forgiveness.”
Spiritual abuse is confusing and disorienting. So I used to wonder if I just needed to toughen up. But now I see that the problem wasn’t with me. It was with him.
He’s just not qualified to be an elder.
And this is the standard THAT THE SCHOOL PROMISED US IT WOULD MEET—the reason many matriculate there, presumably. “Your professors here love you. In fact, some of them are even elders in the church.” There are lots of smart theologians who are jerks in the classroom. (Which, IMO, means we shouldn’t fawn over them or their works.) But that’s what BCS promised would be different about our journey: these men are theological giants *and* they will pastor you lovingly, as Christ would have them do.
Andy is brilliant and in possession of a powerful mind, and hopefully he will serve the church rightly upon his repentance. But in my estimation he is not presently qualified for the role of elder in Christ’s church.
BCS promised us pastor-teachers and didn’t hold up their end of the bargain with regard to the teacher we most frequently had. My last year was almost exclusively with Andy. Nearly every class for both semesters. Men who’d proven themselves as able shepherds also possessing theological acumen were inexplicably only given a semester or perhaps two with us, over four years. Would that men who’d actually presented themselves approved were able to train us more! But the guy with two phds and a minimum of actual shepherding was our primary influence in the final straightaway to graduation and (hopefully) ministry. I left BCS trying to spit its taste out of my mouth because of that year. What a way to enter ministry.
Sahr A. M. Brima (@sahr_brima)
Kate asked me why we left our mostly white church. I told her my pastor said it wouldn’t be sinful for him to own me & my family today (or—he quickly added after seeing the look on my face—vice versa) as long as he treated us like Paul commanded. But this didn’t make the article.
Maybe this is what was meant by “disagreements about race and gender issues.”
Editor’s Note: President Joseph Rigney (the “pastor” referred to here) replied on Twitter denying that he said such a thing, and clarified what he did say in conversations with Shar. Sahr then recapitulates on August 22:
I didn’t think my tweet needed clarification or explanation but I’d like to avoid any confusion. So for the people in the back: it was a conversation between me and Joe Rigney re: how his views on slavery were similar to or different from Doug Wilson’s. It was…disorienting.
Joe’s views weren’t entirely aligned with Wilson’s—he thought chattel slavery was evil, and the civil war was God’s judgment on a Christian nation for reintroducing a pagan practice. However, he also believed that it was entirely possible to be a godly slaveholder, and to believe otherwise was bad logic; that NT slavery was equivalent to American chattel slavery, so NT commands still applied (i.e. “slaves obey your masters” etc.). We argued at length and as part of his argument, Joe used the illustration I paraphrased above. This ended our conversation. I told him I strongly disagreed with him on this and that it confirmed our decision to leave Cities Church because “I don’t want me or my family to be downstream of anything that smacks of Wilson’s views or theology.”
This was not the first time I had to engage over topics dealing with my humanity with my pastors. Me & @sarah_brima concerns with the church’s affiliation, defense, and approval of Doug Wilson + views on the role of women in church & society were met with defensiveness, equivocations, apathy, recommendations to go read Wilson’s books rather than believe the “street level slander” about him (already did), accusations of slander and outright attack. We didn’t leave lightly—I initiated follow up conversations with the 4 main pastors.
But we left exhausted, demoralized, wounded, and reeling from it all; barely able to walk outside our house without re-living all the worst parts & feeling excommunicated from the spiritual community we’ve known for 5+ years (2 of our former pastors live mere blocks from us).
The thing is, the elders @hopeinGodand@citieschurch have known about my conversation with Joe for two years now: @MekalaAnn + @NirmalMekala
included it among other examples of toxicity & spiritual abuse in a letter to the elders in 2019.
In addition, most people within the orbit of
@hopeinGod @citieschurch, and @desiringGod shouldn’t really be surprised given their longstanding affiliation, support, and endorsement of Doug Wilson (also see Piper’s recent article on Jonathan Edwards).
But, as we and so many others have learned the hard way, in these circles, the talented, celebrity pastor with a profitable platform rarely gets rebuked. Instead, he gets promoted to president.
Johnathon Bowers (@johnathonbowers)
Since it has already been quoted from in the CT article, I’d like to share the resignation letter that I sent to the Bethlehem College & Seminary (BCS) administration last September. I’ll share additional material in the coming days.
Before I share the letter, I should mention a few things.
First, you’ll notice that I say I plan to teach through the end of Fall Semester 2020. That was my intention at the time. However, things became so difficult that my wife and I decided that I would resign in October.
Second, and related to this last point, there is a whole lot of backstory behind this letter. I taught at BCS for over ten years. It took a lot to bring my wife and me to the point where we knew I needed to resign.
Third, I want to give a major shout-out to my wife, @crystaljbowers. I don’t know that I would have been able to make it through this whole ordeal without her support, encouragement, bravery, and clear moral vision. We went through this dark valley (and are still going through it) together, with the support of dear friends and others on social media who have gone through similar experiences. She’s my hero.
Fourth, in point 2, I say that BCS is “committed to ethnic harmony on paper.” “Ethnic harmony” is a Bethlehem phrase. I don’t like it. It can easily obscure the social reality of race and the way white supremacy continues to operate in America and elsewhere. If I were to write this portion of the letter today, I think I would draw a clearer connection between complementarianism—especially as promoted by Piper, Naselli, CBMW, etc.—and the mistreatment of women. However, I still think that it’s possible to believe that the Bible restricts the office of elder to qualified men and also strive to value and empower women in the church. See, for example, @ElyseFitz @emschumacher, @aimeebyrdhwt, and @RachelGMiller97
Sixth, for the sake of his privacy, I’ve redacted the name of the colleague who was dismissed from BCS.
The official statement from BCS was that this person was dismissed “as a result of long-standing differences between ____ and the administration that relate primarily to ____’s particular role and responsibilities.” My colleague’s dismissal dealt a blow to staff and student morale. It undermined confidence in the administration’s leadership. On more than one occasion, then-President Tim Tomlinson declined to share details about my colleague’s dismissal, citing a “confidentiality agreement” that the school had signed with him. This is important, because BCS has claimed that they have never had anyone sign an NDA. They are attempting to get off on a technicality. More than likely, they had this person sign some sort of non-disparagement paperwork, which is different from an NDA.
One of the reasons that my wife and I decided I would resign on the spot was so that I would not be pressured to sign any non-disparagement paperwork on my way out. We wanted to be free to share our story.
Okay. Having said all of this, here is my resignation letter.·
At BCS I learned emotions didn’t mean much. It didn’t matter if I was hurt or struggling as a sem wife— I was to pray harder & “praise God for my suffering.” Consequently, I struggle to view the impact of my time at BCS as “valid”. 1/9
I can’t speak to specific interactions my husband @BenjLesLantz had in class. I can’t speak to the hours of calls & zoom meetings he logged from May ‘20-Oct ‘20 trying to bring concerns to Dean Brian Tabb regarding Naselli. I can’t speak to the specific behavior of Naselli. I wasn’t there.
But I can speak to how all of that visibly & greatly impacted my husband, myself & our whole family. How after his interaction & Naselli, Benjamin came up from zoom class (on break) sobbing. I’d seen him cry twice before in 5yrs of marriage. How after that zoom call he wondered around the house in shock. How my once involved husband now struggled to interact w/ our kids & sit through a meal w/o breaking down in sobs. How I struggled to explain to our (scared) kids why “dad” was so sad now, crying all the time. How he’d startle to wake in the night, sitting up straight saying he was back in the zoom call—with Naselli’s words “sinful to the core” echoing in his mind. How he was left to explain spiritual abuse & power dynamics to cohort members who were not taught these things in sem. How we lost our community over divisions surrounding Naselli’s behavior. How I lost relationships—in an instant. B/c of that class period & the chaos & great hurt that surrounded it. How I had to vet my husband’s email b/c of how some students defended Naselli, calling Benjamin to “repent” & submit.
See—spiritual abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Others unintentionally can compound the hurt by not recognizing or understanding power dynamics. I struggled to come to grips w/ our experience, but could feel the reality of its impact in my body. Anything regarding BCS started my heart fast & put me on edge, at times, making me physically ill. This shouldn’t be the cost of a seminary education. I can stand in witness to these things & in solidarity with others who have shared their experiences. & I will. Because students & faculty members & church members matter. Me, as “just a SemWife”, matters. Impact matters. /end
Kyle J. Howard (@KyleJamesHoward)
@JohnPiper quite literally changed my life, & my wife’s life as well. We discovered his ministry shortly after Vy was disowned by her family for rejecting Catholicism & becoming a Protestant. His grand view of God was a balm to soul.
The turning point for me came during @TGC’s MLK50 conference when Piper felt the need to condemn Dr. King to hell by declaring him an unbeliever during his message all while being famously known as biggest fan of a slave master theologian. It was at that point, I reevaluated.
When I met @WePreachChrist, I was already pretty disillusioned with Piper & BBC. By that point I had already provided Soul Care for well over a dozen former members of the church that included victims of racial trauma as well as domestic abuse born from Piper’s theology/praxi
Still, I accepted an offer to come and teach the staff about spiritual abuse & racial trauma. I goal was to be a prophet in that space & so I both taught & challenged the the leaders privately regarding toxic dynamics I was aware of, became friends w/ pastors now all resigned
Honestly, I’m surprised an ongoing relationship persisted given how direct I was with my concerns but it did. Things changed when I was invited to do a panel on racial trauma alongside my friends @ThabitiAnyabwil, @DrCEdmondson, @DianeLangberg, @JoelABowmanSr, & others. This panel was being hosted by a ministry not under the power of BBC but many of the elders there sought to leverage their power of a church member whose ministry was hosting it & despite panel being birthed out of my intensive that was done there, I was disinvited.It wasn’t just a disinvite, it was a spiritually abusive FaceTime call done by men who I had built a relationship with her knew about my history with spiritual abuse. Long story short, I confronted them abt the hypocrisy of disinvited me a black racial trauma counselor…from a racial trauma panel which wasn’t even targeting their church but rather the black churches in Minneapolis in light of George Floyd’s death. When I explained to them the optics of such an act, they re-invented me. I accepted cuz it was for the black community not them.
Anyways, long story short, during & after my time in Minneapolis, I developed relationships w/ many members of the church. Minorities & White who both wanted to see church abound in faithfulness. It grieves me to now be hearing so many stories of what happened to them. Yeah yo, there’s absolutely a part of me that is discouraged cuz it’s like everything I taught about was completely disregarded. Through tears I shared w/ elders, including those who have left, about the long term damage of spiritual abuse & racial trauma. Nothing changed.
I’m tired of going into white spaces, teaching & enduring the cost of doing so, only to then see none of the white men with power rise up & use their power to pursue change even if it costs greatly. I don’t do it for them, I do it for the BIPOC in those spaces, but still…
My entire day yesterday was doing Soul Care for BBC victims who were deeply triggered by @CTmagazine’s recent article. I’m glad CT sought to raise awareness, but the route they took & the voices they prioritized has caused a lot of spiritual abuse survivors pain. Smh
My prediction: White Evangelicalism will sweep BBC’s recent abuse issues under the rug & it’ll be no longer “ a thing” within a month. The process has already started with @CTmagazine’s attempt to make it about Philosophical disagreement rather than about abuse.
Debby Pickering (@DebbyPickering)
During this time, I began to increasingly feel like my mind had been picked up and smashed. I’m not despairing. I’m describing the toll of spiritual bullying within the church. I don’t share this for pity or to highlight myself or get attention. I want to help others who may be feeling similarly. I want to drag evil out into the light. And then maybe somehow go back to a new normal of a life with my husband and kids. And I certainly know that I am not better than anyone, and know that Jesus Christ crucified and risen for me is my one and only hope. I also believe that he cares so deeply when members of His body are being verbally and emotionally kicked behind closed doors (or openly). When shepherds use their authority to demean and label and belittle sheep, He sees and He cares. I am praying to live a one faced, one piece life myself. And I am praying that for the shepherds of Bethlehem.
As hard as this was for us, we know it was harder still for students, staff members, minorities, church members who brought up concerns with fear and trembling only to be dismissed or had pastoral posturing used to gain information from them only to have that information used against them. Lord, help. /end
John Piper’s August 26th Tweet (the only one that references anything on Twitter Since Aug 20)