The IFB Churches in Tonight’s Exposé Are not Martyrs, but Chastised Saints

Tonight Elizabeth Vargas from 20/20 will air an exposé of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches . From  what little I’ve read, it doesn’t seem like she understands the word “independent,” but nonetheless I’m inclined to think that there is a systemic inclination to abuse and cover-up in these circles because of the unbiblical views of authority and autonomy in what is clearly a movement (or, in sociological terms, a “collective”) called Independent Fundamentalists. I am not exactly sure what to expect from Vargas, but having cut my teeth in the exact circles some of the exposed churches are from (and actually having been in and knowing people quite well who were in them), I can expect a circling of the wagons, we v. them isolation, and victim rhetoric as if they are being targeted by the bad, liberal media. Chuck Phelps will be deemed by some as a martyr and many will be more irate at the victims than at the atrocious malady of abuse that finds fertile ground in the sub-culture of fundamentalism.

But this exposure is not about being a Christ-follower. It is about — in the most charitable of analyses — a mishandled situation involving a child who was raped and publicly humiliated. At the very least, Phelps’ et. al. clumsy leadership is on display. And that by itself is fair, particularly because when leaders are that clumsy, people get hurt. Badly. And teachers, the Bible says, get the stricter judgment (James 3:1).

But, supposing Vargas is unfair? What if she drops the word “alleged” and flatly accuses all IFB across the board of abuse? What if she presents IFB pastors across the board as if they are all alike rapists? Some will say it’s a form of suffering.

Fine. It will be suffering.  And so it should be. But it’s not suffering for what is right.

Peter said it plainly: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:14-15). The word “meddler” (ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος) can be translated in various ways, but one correct understanding of it is “infringing on the rights of others.” Bumbling something this serious is, at best, meddling. Everybody watching should start considering the lives of children and victims of abuse, their rights, with extreme caution and reverence. The “suffering” happening tonight is because leaders bumbled. And consequently meddled.

Make no mistake about it. Humans are rarely just. Something may be unjust and unfair. In fact, the men and churches involved may have to deal with some suffering. But it won’t be because they did good. It will be because they screwed up and promoted a system that makes victims, not offering meaningful and lasting healing to helpless children abused by sexual predators. They are not making news because they lived a quiet and peaceable life in Christ Jesus. They’re making news because they hurt children. Whether they were sincere or not is irrelevant. Whether they were conniving politicians conspiring to cover-up sin or bumbling klutzes who do not know how to think outside of the framework of their myopic groupthink, it does not matter. The suffering of public exposure does not make them martyrs. It makes them chastised saints.

And if they are chastised saints, it means that no saint ultimately escapes the pain of it. There are some graceless victims, I’m sure, who may feel that points are being scored against the “IFB cult.” True enough. But, ironically, they themselves become sectarian if they think that licks can be made on IFB people of God and not affect them. We’re all one body. In some sense, we’re all being chastised. Chastised saints, indeed. But there will be no martyrs tonight unless its the victims themselves who never signed up to be sexually assaulted in the first place.

Know the difference. And pray for all involved.

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12 Responses

  1. Amen.

  2. Well stated and thoughtfully presented. Thank you Bob.

  3. Or some of these IFB pastors are not “chastised saints” at all and just wolves in sheep clothing. If it sounds like a wolf, acts likes a wolf, but says it’s a sheep . . . I’m still running.

  4. So…if an IFB pastor is NOT guilty of bullying, hiding truth or the like, but has worked to be a humble, Spirit-led, grace-motivated pastor/elder/bishop, but such an one gets painted with the same brush that Vargas apparently will paint Chuck, then that pastor is not suffering? Why? Because he could’ve done something about the environments at all the churches where this kind of think happens? Wha?

    Or am I missing something?

  5. Oops, I saw this post only after I had left the other comment. Sorry.

  6. As a Christian and a Baptist, not independent but nevertheless, I would like to say that pedophiles and/or perverts often hide out in church congregations. They sometimes find easy access to their victims in a caring and concerned group of people who tend to trust more than the average person. Church leadership is becoming more and more aware of this problem but unfortunately, sometimes it is the leadership who is at fault. Satan often appears as an angel of light because this is where he can do so much damage. We must all be aware and be willing to shine the light of truth on the perpetrators. It can happen in other congregations, not just IFB.

  7. Very well stated; one body, many members, many gifts and also many failings, that’s why everyone in the Body is given everyone else, in unity, to help discern an increasingly closer walk with The Spirit, the Truth. No one knows the fullness of truth but together the Body can progressively grow closer to knowing what that means and the person of The Spirit that truth represents. All of the “seven churches” of the Book of Revelation are present in each assembly of believers, along with the positive and negative character attributes associated with each of the seven. In this way there is always a possibility of finding balance, if the assembly will humble themselves and pray, listen to the perspectives of each person in the community of believers as they relate what they hear The Spirit speaking to their spirits. And measure these seeker’s points of view with the accounts of the past relationships with The Spirit, the documents of transcendant wisdom collected in the Bible and other books of wisdom that have survived the tests of time and many cultural changes. A closed, exclusive and narrowly defined perspective that is absolutist in nature is not the “narrow way” spoke of in the Bible, but is, as is taught in the Bible, the way of pride. James’ account of his relationship with The Spirit conveys to seekers of truth that The Spirit resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Being open to perpectives in the progressive process seeking a closer knowledge of truth, the process of discernment, eliminates the broad ramblings of the darkness of the errors of absolutism and fundamentalist extremism and is the “straight way” spoken of in the New Testament of the Bible.

  8. I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for saying this so eloquently.

  9. Wow Bob, I am thoroughly disappointed. When did you become the messenger of God’s chastisement on His followers? You are painting with the same broad brush that 20/20 did. I believe that there are multiple purposes that God has in allowing this situation to take the spotlight. It is not our job as believers to determine God’s purposes for others. Rather, we do well to evaluate our own lives in light of these events.
    Further, there is as much, if not more, documented data supporting the fact that the situation, while not handled perfectly (impossible for anyone with a sin nature) was handled by Phelps in a way that was both ecclesiastically and judicially appropriate. Is not Tina’s life now a testimony to this? She has a God-honoring marriage, a family, and involvement in the body of Christ! Thus, it is just as easy for someone to argue for the exact opposite of what you saying here.
    Also, when did counseling victims of abuse become meddling?
    One last thing, when I pray for Phelps should I refer to him as a “klutz?”

  10. [...] and thought I should bring this to the attention of my blog audience. I also read Bob Bixby’s helpful thoughts prior to the airing of the show. I think he was spot on, all [...]

  11. [...] but to the community. This explains in part why some were offended that I suggested in the original post that we are being chastised, all of us, and particularly the men highlighted in ABC’s 20/20. I [...]

  12. [...] Not martyrs, but chastised saints. [...]

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