How a “church” became a dark stain on the Gospel witness in my city

Today, I am reminded that 1) our sin will find us out [Numbers 32:23] and 2) we must trust in the Lord and not in any man [Psalm 118:8-9].

This is a very disturbing story and some may be offended that I’m posting about it, but these types of toxic situations exist precisely because Christians would rather bury their heads in the sand than shine a light on sin. I’m going to give a short introduction to this post and I apologize to those who are already familiar with that part of the story.

Shortly after my wife and I accepted Christ in 1983, we began attending an independent Bible Baptist church in the area. I was looking for a Gospel-preaching church that was close to us and I picked that particular one based on an advertisement in the Yellow Pages (remember those?). We stayed at that church for eight years and became heavily involved. The pastor of the church, Joe B., was a karate black-belt tough guy and preached in an “in your face” style, which was quite a novelty and initially very appealing. I was used to limp-wristed priests when I was a Catholic and this was a refreshing change. But after awhile, the pastor’s very heavy-handed, macho-man style began to grate on me. It got to a point where just about every sermon made my skin scrawl. We finally left the church and I was so disgusted with churchianity that I walked away from the Lord for a very long period. Not smart. I had been trusting in man rather than the Lord. If I had been walking closely with the Lord, I would have just asked Him to lead us to a good church right away. But even as messed up as I was, I still felt sorry for those who remained behind at that church and voluntarily submitted to the spiritual and emotional bullying.

I’ve kept an eye on our old church from a distance over the years and it’s had its share of problems, most of them self-induced. One of the pastor’s sons, Paul B., followed in his father’s footsteps and attended his dad’s Bible college alma mater, but got involved in some sinful behaviors and activities that became known to the church’s membership back home. After he returned to Rochester, his father hired him as youth pastor, prompting some members to transfer to a Baptist church on the other side of town. In 2011, after his father had a temporarily debilitating stroke, Paul was promoted to pastor.

Paul not only continued his father’s “in your face” style of preaching and pastoring but he took it even further. He quickly established mixed martial arts (MMA) training and competition fighting as one of the church’s main “ministries.” Illustrations of mythological warriors with bulging muscles and menacing swords, evidently meant to symbolize aggressive, militant Christianity, saturated the church’s web site and social media. Paul swaggered around town with sleeveless t-shirts, exposing his bulked-up musculature, while his equally hard-training wife competed in Mrs. New York State competitions and regularly posted revealing modeling photos of herself in skimpy bikinis on her Twitter and Facebook accounts. This unconventional pastor couple were obviously very proud of their hard-earned, chiseled physiques and wanted everyone to know it. But in 2014, the county police department interviewed three individuals who claimed Paul had either sexually abused them or had attempted to. Some of the accusations described situations involving both the pastor and his wife. These allegations were splashed across the internet. The police concluded their investigation saying there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. Pastor emeritus, Joe, now fully recovered from his stroke, lobbied the church “leadership” and membership on behalf of his beleaguered son. The executive pastor and deacon board of the church fully supported Paul.

Earlier this summer, one of the Paul’s previous victims had posted on her blog that he had been “fired” (news reports say he resigned) from the church because of new allegations of abuse. I checked the church’s website and, sure enough, any and all signs of him had been erased and Joe, now age 68, had resumed pastoring duties. A week ago, the local television news and newspaper ran stories saying Paul had been arrested after two new individuals had contacted the police with claims that he had sexually abused them. Two days later, a third person also pressed charges. Paul is scheduled to appear in court today for his arraignment. The signed testimonies of the victims were released this morning and they all tell a similar story; Paul had used the MMA and workout “ministries” to connect with the women and lure them into his home where the abuse took place.

Last week, after an update on the scandal had aired on the local television news, my wife turned to me and asked, “Why did you get us involved in that church in the first place?” Boy, did that hurt. I was a baby Christian when we began attending that church, with little discernment and no basis of comparison.

I hesitated in writing this post for several obvious reasons, but the Lord kept bringing it to the forefront. There are some men who are not genuinely called to pastor churches, but do so anyway. They do more harm to the Gospel than good. This particular church has become the laughingstock/snakepit of the Greater Rochester area, with the very heavy media coverage of this scandal. All of it reflects very poorly on the entire Gospel witness in this area, not to mention the people, adults and children, who have been abused at this church over the years, both physically and emotionally. No church is perfect, but this church was on a downward spiral from Day #1. If your pastor is a megalomaniac and there is little or no pastoral oversight, you should leave immediately and ask the Lord to lead you to a God-honoring fellowship.

Former pastor accused of using hot tub to target women
http://13wham.com/news/local/former-pastor-accused-of-using-hot-tub-to-target-women

See my posts from last year regarding the abuse at this church here and here.

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15 thoughts on “How a “church” became a dark stain on the Gospel witness in my city

  1. Thank you for writing this, brother. It’s such an important warning. Discernment is so needed, there are so many wolves in sheeps clothing. I have relatives who will not hear the gospel because of these types of churches. Scandal is spiritually deadly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, sister. This was a tough one but I needed to write it. I returned to the Lord three years ago and my wife and I initially attended a small Southern Baptist church. I was having discussion with the pastor and a deacon one evening and the deacon brought up the problems at this church that I posted about. I quickly chimed in with my experiences there, but the pastor immediately shushed me, as if relating my experiences was somehow uncharitable and ungodly. But as we now know, Paul was able to continue preying on other women because he wasn’t stopped in 2014. My oldest son was a friend of Paul’s way back in the day when we attended that church and he’s kept in touch with him a little bit via Facebook. Neither one of our sons is saved and I have heard from both of them how all religion is foolish as exemplified by this ongoing scandal. But I’ve tried to use this as an opportunity to witness to them about the Lord Jesus instead of focusing on the failures of men.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That is an excellent direction to take this story, back to the gospel. We all fall short, although James paints a dire picture for leaders and they have greater scrutiny, my sins are no better then Paul’s. I’m thankful to God that He saved me. I pray He has mercy on Paul and his dad. I’ll pray for your sons as well, that your witness is met with soft hearts.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment, Maria, and I understand your reluctance to “like” the post. There are probably many fellowships where the pastor has assumed dictatorial status, which leads to all kinds of abuses. Meanwhile the membership is pressured into remaining silent and acquiescent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Man this is sad to read; but not something one should say to you not to print. As I grow older in my walk with God I’m convinced that pastors who have a lot of pride are in dangerous grounds for more dangerous sins. No big fall happens in a vaccum; it begins with a thousand little steps to get there and often is a sense of being special and above the rest, that God or the church “needs” you, that you are so unique, you can do things and get away with it. Of course, often its hidden under guises of self-deception that it’s no big deal, God will forgive, etc. But God will expose pastors in their sins; scary really, but a call for holiness as a pastor myself. Thank you for this post, I’m praying for all those who are victims, his family, the church and former members.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your feedback on this as a pastor, Jimmy. I hesitated on writing this post because I’m fully aware the knee-jerk reaction among Christians is not to acknowledge this kind of situation, as if speaking about it is as evil as the crime. I’m reminded that we should frequently lift up our pastors in prayer, that there is much temptation when dealing with so many people on a personal level and also the temptation of feeling lifted up. As you say, a falling doesn’t happen overnight. Yes, it’s the result of a series of compromises and rationalizations. If the evil one can take down a pastor, especially in such a public scandal, the damage to the body and the Gospel witness is tremendous. I think of all the unbelievers in our city who have watched the many news reports over the last 8 days and have become even more hostile to the Gospel.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What a heaviness you and others who were associated with the church whether from the past or currently must be feeling…
        As I read your posts I thought of a few other pastors that I knew who fell in ministry. Most of them have the signature sign of arrogance before their fall…and almost a fighter syndrome in them but not necessarily contending for the Gospel attitude, but more of their own personal kingdom. Earlier this year I was refuting a divisive pastor who seem to misrepresent others as a serial obsession…I wrote a response here: https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/tom-chantry-misrepresentation-john-frames-epistemological-approach-as-amounting-to-relativism/ and i noted then how unusual his blog suddenly went private. Turns out that the guy was a child molestor and was only recently caught. How sad it is to see Christ’s name get blasphemed and the cause of Christ get hurt. Posts like yours are needed as a loving witness to for those searching up info online of your former pastor. Your posts strikes me as written with the right attitude, you’re not witch hunting him, you’re critical of him, you’re hurt, you love God and Christ and you grieve for the victims and those hurt. That’s what the world also need to see and hear. Praying.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement, Jimmy! I suspect many Christians were driven to exasperation by fundamentalist pastors who focused on rules and guilt. Yes, the arrogance was palpable. So many families intimidated and misled. It’s not surprising abuse festered in such an environment. Thanks for the link to that post. I do remember that one.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Hope. Call it intuition but I googled the pastor’s name once a month for the past three years following the 2014 accusations because after one shoe drops….

      It’s just terribly disappointing that more people were victimized.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A big problem within many of these churches is that the pastor is untouchable. Any criticism is dismissed as you having a spiritual problem. It is thought that as long as the numbers are good everything must be fine. Church discipline is unknown. So are the biblical qualifications for eldership.

    I am aware of this church. I went there a few times in the early 80’s for their evening service. (They were working through Revelation. It is a fundie thing. 1988 was still coming.) It was very man centered. Manipulation evangelism. The services always ended with “every eye closed, every head bowed,” (and every hand raised!) You know, just like in the New Testament.

    I did not notice the macho. But I did notice Joe being full of himself.

    So much harm done to so many people. One of the things I find out about a church before I join is how they handle discipline. In the Reformed tradition it is thought that there are three marks of a true church: preaching of the Word of God, proper administration of the sacraments, and church discipline.

    ps.: did Joe finish the Ph.D he was working on?

    pps.: If you want to know how the inner workings of this type of church, read Jeri Massi’s novel Secret Radio.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the feedback. You were probably sitting next to me. Oh, yes, Joe was very full of himself. No memories of macho? What about “If you don’t like the preaching, don’t let the door hit you in the…behind”? What about Joe threatening to beat up every unbeliever or backslider who needed a good whuppin’ and always adding, “all in Christian love” at the end? I don’t know if Joe earned the PhD. or if it was honorary but after we left he used the title. Thanks for the recommendation. Yeah, a lot of the indy fundy Baptist pastors were “in your face” back then. Many probably still are.
      ,

      Like

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