Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Fifth Way: A Journey to the Heart of an Aramaic Jesus by David Brisbin, MDiv, LPPC

By all reasonable accounts the Christian church is in decline right now. Consequently, I am grateful that Fifth Way: A Western Journey to the Hebrew Heart of Jesus courageously applies the latest in Bible scholarship to trace out, in a very personal manner, the implications of living a Christian life that reflects the unquestionable Jewishness of the Aramaic Jesus.
Cover art for Dave Brisbin's second revised
version of The Fifth Way: A Western
Journey to the Hebrew Heart of Jesus.

David Brisbin is championing a fresh take on the Aramaic Jesus, an approach which may turn things around for Christianity and provide the wholesome insight of Christ to a new generation of believers. As such, I see Brisbin’s book as an extremely important contribution in a world where it seems as if pastors themselves are perhaps too squeamish about the messy details of Bible scholarship. In contrast, Brisbane’s book suggests a fresh approach to life that depends on trust in God, comfort with ambiguity, and a large dose of forgiveness. In my view, these are three ideas that remind me a great deal of the teachings of Jesus himself. Brisbin even seems to mirror Christ’s somewhat annoying mysterious by asserting that the Fifth Way taught by Jesus cannot be adequately captured in books.  It can only be experienced by living life, moment to moment, in complete trust in God.

As far as I can tell, Brisbane perspective is influenced by – but cannot be reduced to - his sincere seeking of the Lord in the context of Brisbin’s shame as both a childhood survivor of sexual abuse and as a Catholic divorcee. His carefully planned book presents us with a compelling account of the scriptural study and daily practice which left him content with the cheerful knowledge that he is loved by God.  His main metaphor is the vision that we are frogs living in a deep well, blind to the realities of the larger world outside the well. As we ask God to help us, Brisbin suggests we may be surprised to experience shovel loads of dirt dumped on our heads. Brisbin suggests that what seems like an inappropriate response to our heartfelt prayers may actually be our God’s rather mundane way of filling up our wells and slowly raising us up to the surface of the planet.

As a political scientist, I especially enjoyed the manner in which Brisbane describes the other four ways by leveraging the work of Josephus, a first century Jewish historian. As you may remember, Josephus categorized Jewish political life around the time of Jesus according to different ways of reacting to the impact of Roman colonialism. Brisbin, for example, sees the Sadducees as yielding to superior force and profiting from their control of the Second Temple. He sees the Pharisees as seeking to manipulate that superior force through religiously based arguments. He sees the Essences as fleeing the oppressive situation by moving to isolated desert locations where they practiced a monastic lifestyle. Brisbin surprises me the most, however, by including the Zealots in his model. He sees the Zealots as the ones who resist through their efforts to fight back against Roman rule, an effort highlighted by the Zealot’s willingness to die at the Judean fortress Masada.

In this historic context, Brisbin sees Jesus teaching a healthier Fifth Way.  For example, Brisbin relies on existing scholarship to help us better understand the words of Jesus through the lens of the Hebrew/Aramaic language and traditional Jewish idioms. This focus on the Jewishness of Jesus makes Jesus’s words much easier to understand and less likely to cause befuddlement or off-the-cuff rejection.

As such, I think it is fair to say that Brisbin’s The Fifth Way represents a rather substantial popularization of recent scholarship regarding the creation of the New Testament and shares Brisbin’s excitement regarding the potential healing qualities of an improved understanding of the Aramaic language and the Jewish culture of Jesus.  Consequently, I also think it is fair to say that this is a timely and contemporary book that puts this new scholarship into an agreeable and practically accessible form. It leaves us with a fresh take on Jesus which, for most readers, should take away much of the guilt, shame and confusion they may experience when they initially access the New Testament. Brisbin’s book will also give those who are already intuitively clear about the consistency of Jesus’s message quick access to the source material they need to persuade those who may, or may not, be relying on the latest linguistic and scientific advances in Christian theology.

I imagine that Brisbin’s critics will point out that Western civilization - with all its guilt and shame - seems to have been doing pretty well without the assistance of what we learn from modern Bible scholarship.  

Even Brisbin suggests that while increased information can easily give us a truthful and easier-to-understand Jesus, it may not give us the sort of Jesus that appeals to television viewers or facilitates the growth of large standing armies. Nevertheless, I suppose the good news about the Good News is that Brisbin has paddled into the ocean of this new scholarship and he has now come back to report to us that the surfing is pretty good. His personal testing of this Fifth Way gives me confidence that greater scientific knowledge about Jesus and his Jewishness will allow us to hold tight to much of what is most attractive about Christianity, while also allowing us to mercifully dispense with what has become unattractive and inappropriate about Christianity. From my perspective as an ex-Marxist, Tea Party activist, I can report that I feel comfortable with Brisbin’s overview of contemporary issues and his defense of a slightly more complex Christian world view, a world view which allows me to feel more comfortable with divorce and assisted suicide, while still allowing me to remain unhappy with gay marriage and the sheer evil of Communism.

After attending Brisbin’s church and reading his book, I certainly have the feeling that he is a good guy to have as a friend and that his cheerful manner provides a realistic way to enjoy a joyous and free life.  The book provides a dependable example of this approach when he reports how he attempted to help a young women deal with anger, guilt, and shame she felt for a friend who left the Christian faith for Judaism and then later committed suicide. The story shows us how Brisbin’s perspective allows him to comfort the young woman through Biblically based knowledge in a manner reminiscent of how Jesus himself dealt with religious conflicts and deep-seated guilt. This story certainly provides an accurate description of the Dave Brisbin I have met in real life at the church, theeffect, where he serves as the teaching pastor. 

Over the course of the book, the reader will experience some of the healing and comfort Brisbin provides on a daily basis. With his words, we gain a contemporary look at the historic Jesus who offers a Fifth Way in which we can escape the stoning of our peers and simply go and sin no more. It is a book that will soften the heart of the Christian atheist and enlarge the heart of the Christian seeker. It may even be the book that turns things around for the Christian church and the larger civic culture that depends on it.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It Takes a Village: Rethinking the Prodigal Son with Ken Baugh

Trish and I visited Capo Beach Church in San Clemente yesterday to hear our ex-pastor, Ken Baugh, speak on the topic of the prodigal son. I say ex-pastor when I should say real pastor, since I feel like a step-child who absolutely refuses to acknowledge the new dad in mom's life. At any rate, our real pastor set the prodigal son story into a fresh framework regarding how village life took place in the time of Christ.

The gist of the message is that it makes all the difference in the world to see the prodigal son and his father as living in the center of a small village surrounded by a protective wall. This, of course, is in contrast to my usual vision of the father as living on a large hacienda in the middle of a ranch in the middle of nowhere. As far as I can tell, Baugh's fresh perspective is inspired, in part, by Kenneth Bailey's book, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1992).  A later version of this bookThe Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005) was honored in 2006 as a "Year's Best Book for Preachers" by Preaching magazine.

The gist of the argument is that the prodigal son is a much more exciting story when you see the story retold from the perspective that both the father and son were living in a tight compact village. In this interpretation, the son's demand for his inheritance looks more disrespectful, and his sudden desire to cash it out and move to another country looks like a means of escaping the offended villagers. Likewise, the father's running out to meet his prodigal son looks more like an attempt to protect the son from the hostility of the villagers than a made dash of parental enthusiasm. Finally, the feast itself appears to be a way of rehabilitating the prodigal son into the life of the community. 

As such, this version of the study - as a tool of insight into the personality of God - leaves us with an image of a God who is willing to sacrifice everything to win back his errant son. In a larger sense this interpretation is quite significant, as I understand it, since Muslims have used this story to suggest that Jesus's sacrifice is unnecessary to securing God's forgiveness. When we reinterpret the story as a tale of the father's sacrificial love, then the Christian meaning of the story becomes more clear. 

At any rate, it was great fun to see Ken Baugh in action again. This was one of his most interesting sermons and a real eyeopener when it comes to understanding Jesus in his own historical context. It was refreshing to see Ken Baugh in good form. I should also report it looked to me like there were about 18 of us Coast Hills Church folks in the crowd. Our attendance was a subtle reminder for Ken Baugh that we have his back and that we miss him, his message and his trustworthy scholarship.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Not Now Honey, I'm Sniping: My Take on Clint Eastwood's New Film

I am surprised to report that I was disappointed in American Sniper. I thought it was going to be a glorified look at how the U.S. is using every tool in its toolbox to stop Islamic extremism. Instead, I was treated to a version of Chris Kyle's life that celebrates his ability to multi-task regarding his over-watch responsibilities with his wife's need for attention.

While I would have been okay with an Navy SEALs in Iraq version of Top Shot, I found myself bored that Clint Eastwood gave us a remarkably clumsy romance, nearly constant marital discord, complaints about Chris Kyle's emotional unavailability. Instead of the informative, heroic story I was looking for, I witnessed Chris Kyle obsessively calling his wife back home in the U.S. (I find it annoying when my wife calls me at work.) I was not expecting to see a film about how war interferes with domestic tranquility.

For all these reasons, I was not surprised to learn from a recent story in PJ Media that Taya Kyle played a large role in the film according to lead actor, Bradley Cooper.
When filming, Cooper said he was focused on being accurate toward Kyle’s character, so his personal thoughts about America’s War on Terror did not come into play. “The honor, it’s right there, I’m standing next to Taya Kyle and any time you get to play an individual who has really lived, or is alive, that’s a privilege but especially when it’s this man, Chris, and the fact that we were going to do it while he was alive and then I continued once he died and she really was the reason why it became the film that it became, you know, that’s the honor,” Cooper said at the Washington screening of American Sniper, which was directed by Clint Eastwood.
I have a hard time understanding why this movie broke so many box office records given its decidedly misguided approach . It was fun, of course, to see a little about Navy SEAL training. I was reminded of those moments in my own life when, in the company of other men, you needed to know that a man is straight before you mercilessly joked about him being a fag. By end of the movie, however, the only parts that really got my attention where the examples of Islamic cruelty in the form of a woman pressing her child into grenade throwing, an evil enforcer who uses a drill on a child, and a sudden invasion of a restaurant/torture chamber. The parts of the movie that caught my attention were not consistent with either Kyle's book or the truth.

Concerns about how the Qur'an encourages child soldiers, the murder of innocents and the use of cruel torture techniques had little resonance with Mr. Cooper:
PJ Media asked Cooper if working on the film changed his perspective of the War on Terror.
“Never even thought about it. It was all about being accurate toward that character [Chris Kyle] and what he went through and that’s always been the intent … to create and reflect the human that I got to know and that she [Taya Kyle] knew as her husband,” Cooper said.

Following tradition, Kyle's fellow warriors pounded 
more than 100 Navy SEAL trident pins into his casket.
I thought this movie was popular because it was a creative take on how the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history managed to accumulate 160 confirmed kills out of 255 probable kills by blowing off the heads of those who wish us ill. After all, American Sniper is based on Chris Kyle's autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. This movie, however, seems do everything its power to distract from content advertised in the book's title. For me, the best part of the film was watching the work of Kevin “Dauber” Lacz, a former Navy SEAL who served two combat deployments to Iraq. In a couple of scenes, Lacz is shown calmly and quickly picking off the bad guys in a manner that I believe was reminiscent of the real Chris Kyle. Lacz was brought into the film as the SEAL technical adviser and was persuaded by the star, Bradley Cooper, to play a role in the film.

The movie had so many liberal micro-aggressions in it I am starting to wonder why liberals pan the film as an ideological affront. One of the bad guys - an expert insurgent sniper, "Mustafa" - is portrayed as a person who is at least as courageous as Chris Kyle. Mustafa is a former Olympian who works alone and jumps from rooftop to rooftop like a fully armed deer. Eastwood wants to remind us that our enemies have virtues too. Later, angry Iraqis swarm Chris Kyle's unit in a not so subtle attempt to let us know the U.S. is not entirely popular among the people it is trying to protect. The moral of the film seems to be that if you are going to survive as a sniper you need to repress your intellectual curiosity about your cause and listen to your wife about when it is time to quit.

All in all, I have to agree with the critics who see this movie as a troubled look at war, instead of a patriotic celebration of how the U.S. delivers justice overseas. I am with David Denby of The New Yorker who described the film as "Both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior's skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery."

Among conservatives, we are apparently so hungry for a positive portrayal of American soldiers that Eastwood's Hollywood version of Chris Kyle's book is met with praise from Sarah Palin. I still do not get it. I would have liked to have learned more about what made Chris Kyle and Kevin Lacz effective snipers. I would have been okay with being exposed to some of the boredom of sniper life. I am disappointed with a portrayal of this American hero which seeks to remember him mainly as a triumphant family man.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Copperhead Waiting to Strike? Former Salon Reporter Fetzer Mills Jr.

Pictured above, former writer,
Frank Fetzer Mills Jr. an OWS protester.
Over the holidays, I distracted myself with excessive time on Twitter. I justified this waste, in part, because I ran across some unique opportunities to get to know the folks leading the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and our contemporary protests - particularly in Ferguson, MO.

Similar to some recent work by Peter Wood at the National Association of Scholars, I thought it would be interesting to sample the ideology and thinking patterns of the protesters who apparently think it is a worthy goal to undermine real police, real free markets, and attack an imaginary thing called white privilege. One of the angriest folks I met is Fetzer Mills Jr. a one time writer for Joan Walsh's blog site  He is a veteran who served briefly in the Navy between 1978 and 1982.

I got interested in forensic psychology due to my grant writing consulting business and the efforts I made to help community colleges establish behavioral assessment teams (BATs) to protect themselves from single shooter scenarios. In the process, I learned that potentially violent students often first come to the attention of schools through the violent fantasies they describe in their English classes. While I am only an amateur at forensic psychology, I still think it is a public duty to point out that Fetzer Mills Jr. strikes me as a candidate for a domestic terrorist watch list.

Ideology of Fetzer Mills Jr. - Democratic Communism is the Way it Should Be

Fetzer Mills Jr. comments in various forums illustrate a totalitarian eagerness to engage in violence against conservatives and the GOP in retribution for their supposed crimes against humanity. This unhinged ex-Salon reporter - a self-proclaimed veteran of at least eight (8) local and national political campaigns - seems more than willing to pull the trigger if only someone higher up the food chain gives him a sign of approval. Here is a sample of his "creative" writing from the comment section of a blog.
In the world I’ve inhabited it’s okay to kill people who kill Americans if they’re not Americans themselves and since my time it’s become okay to kill American citizens who are trying to kill Americans as long as they’re living in another country. That’s a pretty thin moral tightrope. I tend to believe in moral absolutes. I wish someone would give me orders to take out Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent. They’d end up as mulch in some rich asshole’s landscaping. With all of the guns they profess to own, it would provide an object lesson that guns don’t have magical powers to keep anyone safe.
For what it is worth, Fetzer Mills Jr. claims he does not own a gun. I suspect that is good news for both him and his wife, Rebecca Mills. Given his impulsiveness and violent fantasy life, I'm not sure it would be a good idea to even sell him a gun. My point is not to pick on this one fellow, but rather to call attention to how leftist ideology is in danger of empowering people like Fetzer Mills Jr. to potentially make decisions that are bad for others and themselves.

As far as I can tell, Fetzer Mills Jr. is deeply committed to the ideals of Communism despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. While he was active in the OWS, he penned a rambling story about his ideology and how that was working out among the OWS protesters. In contrast to the views of Friedrich Hayek as articulated in his famous Road to SerfdomFetzer Mills Jr. sincerely believes it is possible to combine democracy with Communism. In this sense, he believes we misunderstood the Cold War:
I served in the military because the cold war was going on. There was a genuine threat. There’s a misnomer. When people said it was democracy versus communism, well that’s comparing oranges to apples. Communism is an economic system. Democracy is a political system. It’s possible to have a communist system that’s democratic, and that’s the way it should be.
Ironically, one of the things he initially liked about the OWS encampment is that everything was free and that people were working together in loving harmony. In due time, of course, the steady increase in freeloaders, drug addicts, criminals and homeless people caused him to second guess whether or not this experiment in communal living was such a good idea. Kind of like a Communist who starts attacking his own impure allies, Fetzer Mills Jr. was soon more than willing to tighten up the movement into a more disciplines organization. As Fetzer Mills Jr. told International Business Times reporter, Michael Billera, giving away free stuff started to backfire at OWS:
Zuccotti Park is certainly not the same as it was seven weeks ago.  The park is generally divided between legitimate protesters and freeloaders, the homeless, and of course, the run-of-the-mill drug addicts. 
It's gotten really bad in the last couple weeks, the population of criminals and predators. Fully half the camp down there now don't have anything to do with the movement. They don't go on marches. They're just down there to eat and cause trouble,  says Fetzer Mills, Jr.  Mills has been working at Zuccotti Park as security, according to the New York Daily News. We are overwhelmed. 
 There is now no way to tell who is an active protester and who is your run-of-the-mill crack addict. Occupy Wall Street would probably be best if they distance themselves from these people. Having your name associated with lawless individuals cannot help the movement. 
The number of non-participants taking advantage of the resources that the activists have provided -- free food, clothing, tarps and sleeping bags, hand-rolled smokes and even books, not to mention a sense of protection from the police, who have increasingly left the park to protect itself -- has exploded over the past week, and is threatening to define the occupation itself and overshadow its political and social ambitions, said Mills.
Given the failure of OWS to thrive with its real life version of Communist society, I can only hope that some of the protesters/freeloaders got copies of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Mills, by the way, has also been quick to reprimand gays who attract too much attention to themselves during political campaigns.

Despite the failure of OWS-style Communism, Fetzer Mills Jr. is eager to live in a country where he is provided with a variety of free or virtually free items. In his view, "...everybody should be able to get the best education that they want." Better than that, everyone should also get free healthcare just like what he received in the Navy and now enjoys from the VA:
If you got sick in the navy, somebody took care of you. I want that for every single American, not just people who served in the army. I’m a veteran too, so I don’t have to get my health care through private insurance. It’s free for me, totally free. I’ve studied the VA. The VA is probably the most cost efficient and one of the most well rounded medical systems in the world, not just in the United States.
Much of Fetzer Mills Jr.'s writing seems to include a combination of naive, childish wishes combined with a startling level of anger, rage, and impulsive acting out. "Ever fucked any of them up in bar fights?" he asks in one post, "I do. I know it's wrong but it's cathartic."

The Crooked Path of a Life Long Loser

Similar to the stories of real life domestic terrorists, Fetzer Mills Jr. is something of a loser in real life. His resume illustrates a life full of false starts, dramatically changing career objectives, and poor decisions. It looks like he initially sought to be an actor. His resume states that he acted in numerous regional and local theatre productions during 1980's, including with PlayMakers Repertory Company. He also claims he had speaking role in the 1987 motion picture "Summer Heat." He even records he was a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

You get a sense of his chaotic life in his own words when he observes: "In early 1985 I went a little crazy and blew up my life. Disillusioned and burned out, I quit my job as a political consultant, left my wife and moved to Memphis. I was homeless, jobless, friendless and broke in a strange city."  

As one of his later bios indicates Fetzer Mills Jr. has worked as a journalist and as a security guard at Graceland. Zigzagging through life, he also earned money as a free-lance writer and took a stab at music. He took an undergraduate degree in international studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About 14 years later, he earned a M.A. in Southern Studies with an emphasis on music from the University of Mississippi. The 14 year gap between his BA and his MA looks to me like the disappointing record of a failed Ph.D. candidate. After studying music, he veered into a career as an adjunct English professor at Dyersburg State Community College. (In you are interested in the activities of aggressive, radical adjunct English professors, then you also need to check our the story of Erik Linsker who tried to drop a garbage can on NYPD cops.)

Victim of Wilson's Disease - Rare Genetic Disorder Associated with Impulsiveness

Fetzer Mills Jr. photo
from his Facebook page.
Mr. Mills' dizzying mix of interests tipped me off to an underlying psychological problem. In his OWS screed, Fetzer Mills Jr. mentioned he had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Wilson's Disease. He got this diagnosis the year after he blew up his life when he was 36 years old. As I discovered in Wikipedia, this is a recessive genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in Fetzer Mills Jr.'s tissues - particularly in his liver and brain. Folks with liver problems are diagnosed fairly quickly, while those with neurological and psychiatric symptoms tend to be diagnosed only in their twenties or older. Unfortunately for Fetzer Mills Jr., he started receiving treatment for Wilson's Disease around the time he graduated from college. 

I do not think there is any reason to doubt Mr. Mill's claim that he has Wilson's Disease. In the photo above he looks both crooked and out of balance - telling indicators of Wilson's Disease. From the perspective of forensic psychology, however, what is most interesting to me is how Wilson's Disease impacts cognition. Again, according to Wikipedia, the cognitive problems associated with Wilson's Disease come in two, not mutually exclusive, categories:
  1. Frontal lobe disorder (may present as impulsivity, impaired judgement, promiscuity, apathy and executive dysfunction with poor planning and decision making) and 
  2. Subcortical dementia (may present as slow thinking, memory loss and executive dysfunction, without signs of aphasia, apraxia oragnosia). 

In Mr. Mills case, I think there is both frontal lobe and subcortical issues. The most obvious problem is his impulsivity. In one bizarre Twitter episode, he offered to pay for me to fly to Memphis, TN if all I did was give him my true name. Since my true name is available through my own Twitter profile, I thought this was an excessive, even foolish offer. I took him up on it and I have won a free trip to visit old friends in the Memphis/Nashville region.

The Violent Fantasies of Fetzer Mills Jr.

If Trish and I end up flying to Memphis for a visit, I do not think we will be staying very long. This is because Mr. Mill's published fantasies imagine the most extreme, violent actions against members of the GOP like me. Here's a sample of how he writes about Republicans:
It’s obvious that they despise America and Americans, much more so than Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Al Qaeda only killed about 3,000 people in 2001. Loose gun laws killed 30,000 Americans in the year since New Town alone. 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance.
If you have ever read Thomas Sowell's excellent Conflict of Visions, then you will recognize how easy it is for leftists to look at the distance between the real world and their Utopian dreams and then decide it is okay to start killing those of us skeptical about their qualifications and ability to lead us. Mr. Mills' rage inspires him to imagine the whole U.S. government indulging in a Civil War against conservatives:
My question is why haven’t the intelligence agencies called in drone strikes on the GOP since they kill a lot more Americans than officially designated organizations have? My other question is why hasn’t the State Department declared the GOP a terrorist organization? Perhaps we could get the UN to declare them terrorists and send the infamous “black helicopters” to get them?
As you read Fetzer Mills Jr.'s work, you start to get the sense that he is just another crippled Stalin getting ready to treat his enemies like enemies if only a critical mass is achieved.

Similar to those who have become real domestic terrorists, Fetzer Mills Jr. is an indecisive life-long loser who is happy to publish his violent fantasies, eager to promote Communist ideology, and open to discussing the disease which apparently causes him to engage in reckless and impulsive behavior. If there is a BAT active in Ripley, TN, then I think it would be wise for them to monitor Mr. Mills and maybe see if the VA can prescribe him something to calm his impulsive behavior.

Conclusion: Fetzer Mills Jr. Isn't the Only Fruit Loop in the Bowl

For a long time, I have written about Barack Obama's radical Marxist socialist background and his faith in a coming Communist-style revolution. In retrospect, I think Rush Limbaugh is right to suggest that many normal people find it hard to believe that genuine revolutionaries, capable of (and willing to) kill others, live among us. What they do not understand is that the ideology of Communism facilitates violent, deadly, amoral behavior. After all, the worst mass murderer of the 20th Century were atheist Communists including Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

As I plan to protect my family and myself from the rage of mentally ill/impulsive protesters, I am grateful I got a small reminder this week that their volcanic anger is not some passing academic fashion. It is real. It is as dangerous as genocide. It should not be ignored. If we are going to be safe, I think we need be realistic about the flotsam and jetsam floating in the protester's heads, be it Communist ideology, anti-white hate or an overabundance of copper.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Partial Redemption: Three Elders from Coast Hills Coast Share Positive Impressions of Their Ex-Pastor

Last night, about 25 folks from Coast Hills Church met with three members of the board of elders at a private home in Laguna Niguel. They were there to justify their decision to fire pastor Ken Baugh. Ironically, they ended up releasing information regarding their own bylaw violations along with positive information that reinforced the case that they unjustly dismissed Baugh.  

The elders at the meeting included Greg Holmes, Bill Nixon and Rhoads Martin. One of those questions brought up the issue of term limits for elder board members. At Coast Hills Church, elders are limited to two (2) three (3) year terms. The elders indicated that they have not been following these regulations. The Coast Hills Church website, by the way, indicates that Gary Luke, a roofing contractor, has served as the chairman of the elder board for at least 12 consecutive years.  

As far as I am concerned, the failure of the board of elders - including Gary Luke - to follow and enforce our church's bylaws is a terrible sin. It strikes me as a sign of considerable arrogance. For the elders at this meeting to suggest that their selfish desire to hold on to power over the rest of us - in violation of the Coast Hills Community Church bylaws - is somehow consistent with God's will is too bizarre to consider from a Biblical perspective. 

The good news for Baugh is that the elders saw absolutely nothing wrong with his service morally, ethically, or spiritually. In fact, they liked him so much that they even considered giving him a lower paying "teaching only" job. This is quite interesting since the Bible tells us that teaching is the primary skill required of church leaders. See, 1 Timothy 5:17 English Standard Version (ESV) which states:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
Another bit of good news for Baugh is he had surprised them with his performance in the job of senior pastor. Initially, the elders had only expected him to last two years on the job. This was due to the challenge of taking over church leadership from the charismatic Denny Bellisi. Apparently, Baugh's level of success as both a manager and teacher impressed them. They kept Baugh on for almost a decade. 
In general, the feedback I have received from those who attended this meeting is that they were still disappointed by the elder board's decision. For example, I received the following note from one of the attendees:
We are still stunned by the abrupt announcement and loss of an excellent pastor/teacher. Even after a meeting with three of the elders last night at our D-Group, (we) are not convinced of any solid basis for this decision. Trusting that God has better plans for Ken, and that we can continue to learn from his deep knowledge of the Word. In the meantime, I'm on Yelp looking for a new church that has similar substance to continue to inspire our Christian walk.
At the meeting, the grief over the loss of Baugh was painfully apparent. A number of people were openly crying. One lady expressed sorrow about Ken Baugh's absence, and said she only wished that she could have had a chance to say goodbye to him before he left. Among those who found solace in this gathering, I can report that they are grateful these three elder board members seemed to be open to new ideas and improved communications.  

For now, however, it is plain to me that the elder board does not understand that they made a devastating mistake. 

As a former business school professor, it strikes me that they are relying on magical thinking to distract themselves from the painful reality that they did immense damage to Baugh's national reputation by abruptly and recklessly dismissing him. Through this decision, they humiliated a beloved pastor and permanently scarred his national reputation. They also gravely harmed Coast Hills Church as an institution. They sent an unfortunate message that they apparently have as little respect for their pastors as they do for their bylaws.

Coast Hills is not a cult. In my view, the fact that the elder board is violating the portion of God's truth contained in the Coast Hills Church bylaws is cause for the rest of us to demand their immediate resignations. Rule breakers like Gary Luke and his fellow elders are bad examples to the rest of us. They are unworthy of leading our church. If they insist that breaking the rules is the new normal, then I will not be eating any of that elder chili.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.