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