Goodness. What an ugly situation. I’m sure you are aware by now of the controversy surrounding Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, TN and their pastor Steve Gaines.
I’m greatly saddened by the stress that congregation is having to endure and would suggest to you my readers that this is a perfect time for the Body to pray for a body in the midst of trying circumstances.
I think I can break down what is going through my mind in regards to what is happening at Bellevue in three points:
1. (Already mentioned) Pray for Bellevue. That church has undergone such a great deal of difficulty in the days following Dr. Rogers death that one wonders how much hope of a peaceful Bellevue remains. Dr. Gains has apparently (by his own admission) made poor decisions. Those members of the church who started the SavingBellevue site obviously made poor decisions, whether they know it or not. Bellevue has such a lengthy heritage of ministry and Godly leadership. Let us pray that these situations are resolved in a manner consistent with scripture and that God is glorified in not only the healing but also the progress of the church.
2. I can see why Dr. Gaines did what he did. I’m not saying that how he chose to handle this situation is appropriate. I’m just saying it’s understandable. Hear me out. Apparently, this gentleman approached Dr. Gaines with this information, information about an incident from nearly 20 years ago. According to the first article I linked to the family was notified and forgiveness was sought, after which the man received professional counseling. If I was approached with this type of situation I don’t know that my first instinct would be to dismiss the man. Ultimately that might be the best or unavoidable conclusion but not necessarily an immediately recognized path. The information that arose which (again, according to the first article) indicated the problem might not be resolved does indeed change what I’ve just discussed. However, until that becomes apparent (and I’m not sure when it did) what I’ve written seems reasonable.
I realize that molestation is disgusting, wicked, and deplorable. I also wonder how those who have called “off with his head” would feel if this man had participated in an adulterous affair 20 years ago, repented, and sought help. Or if he had been addicted to pornography. Or if he had cheated on his taxes. I’m not equating those sins on all levels. However, they are equally sinful yet carry different levels of social consequence. So is this a matter of hating a certain sin more than another and expecting a stiffer punishment because of the disgusting nature of the sin? Perhaps.
3. The person I understand the least in this entire situation is Dr. Michael Spradlin of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. You can read Dr. Spradlin’s comments to the Memphis Commercial Appeal to see the context for what I write. I get the impression from the reporting that Dr. Spradlin is piling on a fellow believer in a situation which he would have been much wiser to have refused to comment on.
I realize that there could be some kind of missing context to his words or that, possibly, he was quoted incorrectly. I’m believe Dr. Spradlin deserves the benefit of the doubt on this. At whatever point further information from Dr. Spradlin becomes available his words to the Memphis newspaper will have to be re-evaluated. Until then we can only go on what is reported.
Particularly troubling, to my mind, is this statement:
“There’s a sense of Steve Gaines being the measure of what’s right and what’s wrong. If you agree with him, you’re right and if you disagree, you’re wrong,” Spradlin said. “But I think he’s spent all his credibility and people are losing trust in him.”
That, my friends, if not taken out of context or otherwise misrepresented, is gossip. Those are comments which cast aspersions on a fellow believer which are not grounded in that believers violation of scriptural standards. Furthermore, it gives the impression of internal squabbling in the Christian community and represents opinions that would be best left unexpressed or, if felt with great conviction, should be addressed to Dr. Gaines privately. Literally, Dr. Spradlin could walk across the street and get a better than average shot of encountering Dr. Gaines.
Even if Dr. Spradlin was misrepresented I have to question the wisdom of saying anything other than “I’m praying for the Bellevue family” to the reporter he spoke with. Surely someone who heads such a large institution knows how easily the media can take even harmless statements and use them in a manner not intended. Surely it would have been best to save his opinions for more private and personal conversations. Hopefully something comes to light which mitigates the impression left after reading the comments initially. I will note that a friend of mine in ministry is a student at Mid-America. He is a wise and discerning student of God’s Word and always speaks highly of Dr. Spradlin. Surely there is something missing from the Commercial Appeal’s article.
4. Finally, those who are calling for Dr. Gaines resignation have yet, to my knowledge, produced anything resembling a Biblical standard for a pastor which he has violated. You could, I suppose, stretch the scriptural qualifications to say that Dr. Gaines has acted unwisely and thus fails to be a proper leader of the flock. However, upon doing so you’ve called for the resignation of the vast majority of pastors across the land. As it is, Dr. Gaines might not have acted in a manner demonstrating the greatest degree of wisdom but that is no reason to demand a resignation. Dr. Gaines has been given a difficult situation which has been amplified by uncommon difficulties (some of his own creating). It is to be expected that he won’t navigate each rapid with perfect precision. Bellevue might be one of the countries greatest and most historic churches. However, it is still a church and not a business. Businesses fire C.E.O.s for poor management techniques. Churches hold their leaders to scriptural standards and recognize the difference between disqualification from ministry and bad decision making. Hopefully those thirsting for Dr. Gaines resignation letter will note the difference as well.