Cracks in the Celebrity-Driven Church

kinnon —  June 12, 2013 — 19 Comments

Today, Messengers (the term used for those sent from their SBC churches) at the Southern Baptist Church Convention gathering in Houston, SBC 2013,

passed a resolution calling on all Southern Baptists to report allegations of child abuse to authorities.

Commenting on this, Christianity Today’s Gleanings blog noted,

The resolution, filed more or less in response to the high-profile lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), was amended to ask that “SBC leaders and employees practice the highest level of discernment in affiliating with groups or individuals that possess ‘questionable’ policies and practices in protecting children against sexual abuse,” according to Baptist Press (BP), which live-blogged the morning’s votes. [emphasis added]

As much of a no-brainer as this really should have been, it is rather a strong slap in the face to Southern Baptist Celebrity leaders, Al Mohler and Mark Dever — who less than three weeks ago, along with PCA Celeb, Ligon Duncan were busy strongly supporting their buddy, C.J. Mahaney — SGM controlling stakeholder during the multiple alleged abuse cases at Sovereign Grace Ministries’ churches including the one where Mahaney pastored. Dever going so far as to preach at Mahaney’s fledgling new church plant on June 2nd, 2013 in Louisville, KY — telling the gathered few how wonderful Mahaney is,

“So you all who are here in this church, and particularly if you’re visiting or if you’re sort of new to Sovereign Grace, you have a privilege in having this man as your pastor that you don’t fully grasp, and that’s absolutely fine,” Dever said. “Just thank God for him and enjoy the word of God as he brings it from a life and a heart full of the gospel, and know that I am delighted to be here. It’s a privilege to address you brothers and sisters.” [emphasis added]

The original resolution did not come from one of the many other SBC Celebs sharing the platform at the Houston event, but rather from the cheap seats, via an SBC Messenger from Georgia, Pastor and blogger, Peter Lumpkins. (“Cheap seats” is used affectionately for we, the little people) — with much support from folk outside the gathering, including SNAP’s Amy Smith.

Amy experienced her own SBC rejection because of the stand she’s consistently taken for abuse survivors — in spite of the spin attempted by an associate pastor on staff at Amy’s home church — where the pre-SBC13 Pastors Conference was taking place. (Quick synopsis: this pastor communicated that it would be best for Amy & her husband that they no longer volunteer in that SBC church’s youth ministry — because of her work with SNAP.)

While all of this was happening, there was another interesting development in the CJ Mahaney/SGM Abuse public relations debacle. The 2nd Mahaney-supporting leaders’statement which originally appeared to be from the corporate entity, The Gospel Coalition, and written by three of its key leaders including founder Don Carson, had this quietly added to it:

This statement reflects the views of the signatories and does not necessarily speak for other Council members, bloggers, and writers for The Gospel Coalition. [emphasis added]

In response to a Tweet where I wondered,

Perhaps Carson, DY & Taylor received some pushback from other TCGers“,

Boz Tchividjian, who with the ministry G.R.A.C.E. supports abuse victims  replied,

Internal pushback has occurred.’

There is a scene in Paddy Chayefesky‘s Academy Award-winning film, Network where the lead character, news anchor Howard Beale declares,”I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”His audience soon joins him, stating “We are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”*

At this point in time, there are many Christians who are “mad as hell” at what has happened to far too many “little ones” in the church — and are no longer willing to be lead in silence by Celebrity leaders. These “little ones” have been hurt, damaged and even sexually abused without warranting more than a passing sentence or two of care from these “Church Celebrities”.

What these Celebrity Leaders effectively communicate is that properly held doctrine by big-time church leaders is far more important than a few broken people. (Who was it who said, ‘to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs‘?)

But God, as He so often does, has chosen to raise up prophets from the “lower classes” of the church. (No disrespect intended.) Dee and Deb at the Wartburg Watch, Michael Newnham at Phoenix PreacherMatt Redmond, Julie Anne Smith, Amy Smith, Peter Lumpkins, Chris Hubbs, Zach Hoag and many others.

No doubt the Celebrity leaders are not only stunned by how these little people have spoken up, but also that their voices have been and will continue to be listened to.

To God be the glory.

UPDATE: Read this post at TWW. I’m singing from the same songbook.


*Note that this becomes irony as it morphs into a tag line, rather than conviction, in the film.
Edited a 2nd time for clarity at 12:13 AM Thursday, June 13, 2013.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

19 responses to Cracks in the Celebrity-Driven Church

  1. I have found it staggering to read some of the stories about the SGM allegations on this side of the Pond, where most of us are under very stringent child protection policies. But still, we’ve misread the Bible, haven’t we? Doesn’t the original inerrant text say something about ‘Let the celebrities come to me’ and ‘Inasmuch as you did it to the celebrities, you did it to me’?

  2. This tortured exegesis… make that eisegisis is but one example, Dave. Since we all must except “little ones” refers to Jesus disciples. Sigh.

  3. I spent a decade and a half as an adult leader in the Boy Scouts. We had a pretty intensive program call “child protection” that we had to go through in order to participate. One of the rules was that we were to report to the local authorities any questionable action. The strictness of the code was drilled into us. If there was something inappropriate, we are required by law to report it. if not, we are legally liable to prosecution.

    I don’t think these celebrity pastors get this.

    • Or they simply just don’t care. And I’m afraid that’s where I think they land on this, Ed.

  4. One begins to wonder if passage of the amendment to the SBC resolution was an early warning of … who knows … potential open rebuke or even some kind of stronger censure of those who continue to applaud Mr. Mahaney while apparently expressing little/no compassion for survivors of the child sexual abuse victimization at SGM – whether that abuse is only alleged at this point in the civil lawsuit, or where the perpetrators have already been convicted in criminal trials.

  5. Great summary, Bill. I remember when initially reading Lumpkins’ bold resolution wondering if it would even be considered by the SBC. This is the most positive development I’ve read in a long while. While the resolution is a positive move, my prayer is that the change would come from the heart, not just because it’s the pc thing to do.

  6. Great summary. Something I read this morning seems apposite: “Evil and illusion only need to be named and exposed truthfully, and they die in exposure to the light.” If enough people are determined to keep shining the light, both individual and corporate (institutional) evil will wither and die.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy June 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

    What happens to the “small people” while the Celebrity great houses play their Game of Thrones?

    • That’s easy: they keep buying the products.

      • They might sell well at their own conferences, but just a quick glance at Amazon shows very unimpressive rankings.

  8. I’ve stopped by your blog and/or seen your comments here and there for years, whether at Brant Hansen’s blog or Jesus Creed, and I’ve seen you hit this theme pretty consistently. I agree that the cult of personality is more than just an accident in (big) churches. It’s taught to be leveraged in most trainings for church planters.

    Since you’ve been chasing this dog for a few years at least, what have you found as some viable alternatives or the beginnings of such? For my part, I can’t shake the contrast of church on this point with AA or other 12 step groups. Their traditions, specifically tradition 12, are designed to promote group unity and function, but also take specific steps to prevent the cult of personality from getting any real traction. I find the AA example particularly interesting for the following additional reasons:

    – they exist for the purpose of transformation;
    – they do this through discipleship (and practice that better than almost any institution in the West
    – they have had phenomenal, global growth in the last century
    – their methods are based on what started as a Christian renewal movement

    That’s not the sum total of things that I think the church could learn from one of their most fruitful children, and nor do think 12 step groups are the end-all, be-all, but the conviction that seems to be keeping the cult of personality alive and well in churches (and church planting training) is that we need it to foster growth and/or unity for churches. AA stands as Exhibit A that such is not the case, especially if the goal is transformation of individuals through discipleship and functional communities. I’m curious for your thoughts about this or other “exhibits” that have caught your eye.

    • T,
      Great response and one that demands one of my own. I will respond as soon as I can.

      • Great! I look forward to it. Just so you know, I don’t see easy answers here. If it was easy, we’d have more good examples.

  9. Bill,

    Hey, just to give you a bit more info on where I’m coming from and looking to go: I’m smack in the middle of church planting. Thankfully, it’s not my first rodeo, but I am pursuing something with our group that I’ve not seen much before. The AA bit I mentioned above is a tip of my hand. I’ve also just posted something on our church’s blog on this front under the title of “Try this on for size.”

    I think this is an area where I’d like to see many more positive examples that either have been or are being implemented by Christian groups. I hope this is becomes a growing conversation for years to come.


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