Around ten years ago now, I stumbled in through the back door to my Untwisting Scriptures work.
That back door was named “Bob Jones University.”
Social media and the news are abuzz about BJU again, since the president has announced his departure because he and the board have some fundamental differences.
And people are sending me articles. Just like the old days.
Back in 2012 and 2013, when I began posting on social media about the investigation into how BJU leaders had miserably mishandled sexual abuse allegations, and then especially in February of 2014 (a watershed three weeks for me), I received a stunning backlash of illogic and mishandled Scripture. I’m sure at times my mouth gaped open.
Bit by bit I began to address these objections, at first in Facebook comments, then in Facebook notes on my personal page, and then on the website BJUGrace.com (which, though it has been dormant for a while, I still maintain) and its corresponding Facebook page.
Eventually and ultimately, it led to my full-blown Untwisting Scriptures work, because there are just so many twisted Scriptures, and many of them were found in this context of fundamentalism. (On the BJUGrace website I called them “FQBVs,” Frequently Quoted Bible Verses.)
This recent conflict at BJU between the president and the board that has led to the president’s resignation—I’ve not had much interest in it, honestly. I have had no particular hopes for the school because of what I saw and experienced through the several abuse survivors from BJU who have spoken with me, the GRACE report, and the leaders’ abysmal response to it. (For one example of many, I spoke with Jim Berg on the phone asking him if he would ask forgiveness of the many abuse survivors he harmed through his terrible mismanagement of their cases, and he said a flat-out no.)
Yesterday someone sent me an article by a man named Chuck Phelps.
“Oh,” says I, “I remember this name.” This was the BJU-grad and BJU-faithful pastor of an abuse survivor who years later went public with her account of having been sexually assaulted at 15 by a married man in the church. This was not a situation that could be accused of being a he-said she-said. She bore a child fathered by this man.
Pastor Chuck Phelps had this teenager sent away to a distant BJU-friendly church to have the baby. But before she left, she was required to stand up in front of her home church and repent publicly for her “sin” (of being raped).
This was one of the many stories that came out about abuse in the fundamentalist world 10-15 years ago. After the rape victim’s account came out on social media many years after the fact, her assailant went to prison, but as far as I know, Chuck Phelps never acknowledged wrongdoing, much less ever confessed his sin to the woman he harmed with his blaming counsel. (If I’m incorrect here, I’m certainly willing to change this. Edited to add: The woman whose story this is has contacted me to let me know my statement is correct.)
Chuck Phelps still pastors at the same church he pastored ten years ago, the remaining congregants of which apparently continue to have no problem with what he did. And now he’s written an article about the current Bob Jones University issues.
These days when I read twisted Scriptures, my mouth no longer drops open. After all, I’ve been seeing them for 10+ years now. Now I just shake my head. “They’re at it again.”
So that was a too-long introduction to the Scripture untwisting of Chuck Phelps’ article, “When a Ministry is Being Maligned.” Though this is just a short article, it serves as an example of the kinds of Scripture-twisting sermons many people who want to know God are subjected to every week or more.
Chuck’s opening line in this article quotes Psalm 118:23, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” He then applies that verse to “the gathering together of likeminded constituents, the construction of facilities(??), and lives being changed.”
Did he really say “the construction of facilities”? Yes, yes he did. (But anyone with plenty of money can construct impressive facilities. Wealthy Satan worshippers can do it any time.)
But more to the point, what does this passage really say, in context? Here it is, Psalm 118:22-24.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
This is a Messianic psalm, and how dare we apply it to anyone or anything other than Jesus. Does that not sound to you like dangerously approaching idolatry? This is the kind of wrenching out of context I remember from my early days in this work.
Does it ring a bell, that part about the cornerstone? That’s because Psalm 118 is quoted in the New Testament, not once, but multiple times. And it is always about Jesus. Jesus Himself said it when He was expounding on His parable about the vineyard tenants who killed all the servants of the landowner and then killed the very son and heir of the landowner. This is from Mark 12:10-11, but it’s in all the synoptics.
“Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
And Mark adds, in verse 12,
Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them.
And in case that wasn’t quite clear enough, here Peter speaks in Acts 4:11-12, Peter having been one of those who heard Jesus expound this parable.
“Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Peter talked about it again in his first epistle. It was marvelous in his eyes. And isn’t it marvelous in our own eyes that our Lord Jesus, who was despised and rejected, has become the Chief Cornerstone on which His Church is built?
Let us apply this psalm to no one and nothing but Him. Let’s not be guilty of lifting a person or an institution to His place.
Loyalty vs. Faithfulness
“When we really recognize the work of God in and through a ministry,” Phelps says, “we have an obligation to the ministry.”
1 Corinthians 6:15
Phelps uses 1 Corinthians 6:15 as part of his argument, so here’s the context of 1 Corinthians 6:15. I’m quoting verses 12-17, with verse 15 in bold.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
This passage is about sexual immorality, fornication. It’s not about speaking negatively about an institution or the individuals therein.
But Phelps employs his faithful friend eisegesis to say, “Just as we must be careful not to defile our bodies, we ought to be careful not to defile the corporate work of God.”
By context and by use of that word “defile,” he is claiming that speaking about wrongs that have been done is comparable to sexual immorality. This reminds me of a post I wrote 5 years ago about Paige Patterson, former head of the Southern Baptist Convention. (I kept that post private in those days for reasons I don’t remember now, but I made it public today so I could link to it here.)
This was the message I received clearly 10 years ago and the message that many abuse survivors have received through the years: Those who speak about the crimes are sinners equal to or maybe worse than those who committed the crimes.
The 3 Guidelines
For a short article, this one by Phelps is amazingly packed with misinterpretations, clichés, false conclusions, and twisted Scripture. I wrote a whole section of response that I’m removing simply because of length. You’re welcome.
At the end, in his conclusion, Phelps gives three guidelines that are all quite familiar to me. In fact, I’ve addressed all 3 of them already earlier, in blog articles and/or book chapters, being as they are such common twisted Scriptures, so this section will be mercifully brief, I hope.
“Many of God’s marvelous ministries are currently being maligned,” he says.
It seems a foolish question to consider whether Chuck Phelps will listen to the “negative” that has been said, to hear the truth and change. (He calls it “gossip” later). But there have been some in the spheres of fundamentalism and its neighbor, evangelicalism (where I currently reside), who have listened and wanted to make true changes. For them I’m thankful.
“Because we live in a sin-saturated world we should not be surprised when Satan sows tares among us,” he says.
Yes, for sure—that is to be expected and guarded against. But here is another Scripture wrenched out of context. This parable from our Lord Jesus is about the wicked among the righteous. Like, say, the criminal who violently violated the 15-year-old in Chuck Phelps’ congregation. Not about those of us who are speaking up against wrongdoings.
“Yet, it is essential that we respond rightly when ministries do wrong.”
So, he indeed acknowledges that wrong might be done, and a right response to wrong is necessary. Let’s see what that response is, according to him.
- Do I have all the facts (Prov. 18:13)?
“You don’t have all the facts” has been very useful through the years in shutting up those who have important information.
- Am I sharing my thoughts graciously (Col. 4:6)?
The answer to this one went into Untwisting Scriptures #3, “Your Words, Your Emotions.” The original draft in blog article form is still up at my website with the title, “If you can’t say something nice” . . . in Colossians 4:6.”
- Am I attacking a problem or a person (Eph. 4:31-32)?
For one thing, how about if we use the word “exposing” instead of “attacking”? We want to expose problems. If there are wolves and criminals involved in causing the problems, we want them to be exposed too. Yes?
Phelps supports his thought that people should not be “attacked” (spoken negatively about) with Ephesians 4:31-32. This takes me back to my first Untwisting Scriptures book, which IIRC tackled every single use of the concept of “bitterness” in the Bible, including this one.
There certainly is a kind of wrong speech, reviling is a real thing, gossiping is a real thing. But speaking up about wrongdoing is not that. In fact the entire first half of Book 3 is about the right use of your words, in which I tried to address every twisted Scripture I knew of about this subject, seeking to blow away smoke and bring clarity to how we, as the citizens of the Kingdom of God, should be using our words.
And so he concludes with an admonition not to listen to gossip. Yes, that’s the first chapter in Book #3. How can you even know if it’s gossip unless you listen? What is gossip anyway? (According to the Bible, I mean, not according to the common thinking.)
Rather than simply gossiping, someone may actually be talking about criminal activity.
I’m not saying that’s the case in any way with the Bob Jones University situation now. I haven’t looked into it enough to know.
But I know that criminal activity in these fundamentalist circles has been committed and covered up in the past. And with teachings like that of Chuck Phelps (whose teachings represent so much in that world), the environment is one that puts a “wolves welcome” sign over the front door.
If positive change is coming at BJU, I pray that it will include doing all they can to refuse to value the “elite” over the “commoners” and protect the vulnerable. That they will understand the difference between “maligning” and simply telling a difficult truth.That they will be willing to listen to the truth, no matter how difficult. That they will want to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
That—in opposition to some in fundamentalism—they will want the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ to reign supreme, rather than the kingdom of man.
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.