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Tag: Mark Driscoll

What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common

bruce gerencser 2002
Bruce Gerencser, 2002

Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard are all Evangelical pastors who have checkered pasts. Twenty years ago, Andy Savage sexually assaulted a church teenager. While pastor of Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, Savage admitted his crime. Unfortunately, he was never punished due to the statute of limitations expiring. Savage later left Highpoint. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Andy Savage Gets Standing Ovation for Admitting He Sexually Assaulted a Teenager and Black Collar Crime: Dominoes Continue to Fall Over Andy Savage Scandal.) Mark Driscoll was the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. Accused of having an autocratic management style, verbally/emotionally abusing congregants, plagiarism, and “squishy book-promotion ethics,” Driscoll resigned. Three months later, Mars Hill closed its doors. Ted Haggard was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Haggard, a closeted bisexual, used crystal meth, cavorted with a male prostitute, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a male congregant. In late 2006, Haggard was fired from New Life and resigned his position with the NAE.

All of these men were married, had children, and pastored multi-million-dollar churches running thousands in attendance. All of these men were Evangelical in doctrine and well respected by congregants and colleagues alike. All of these men traveled the Evangelical conference circuit, speaking to thousands of people. These men were widely considered to be preachers God was mightily using to advance his kingdom. Yet, Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard fell from their lofty perches and were drummed out of their churches.

End of story? Surely you jest! Evangelicals are quite forgiving and love a good comeback story. In 2010, Ted Haggard started a new church, St. James Church, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2016, Driscoll birthed a new congregation, The Trinity Church, in Scottsdale, Arizona. And Savage? He is ramping up a new church plant, Grace Valley Church in Eads, Tennessee.

“Bruce, how can these guys do what they did and still be pastors?” Simple. Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard are independent contractors, free to do what they want, including starting new churches. There are no federal or state laws that forbid these men from setting up new non-profit churches (businesses). (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.) Anyone, including you, can gather a handful of people together and start a church. It’s really that easy. In 2015, comedian John Oliver proved just how easy it is to start a new church, by setting up a non-profit religious organization called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Oliver later closed the church and donated the “offerings” to “Doctors Without Borders.”

Why didn’t Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard admit that they were no longer Biblically qualified to be pastors? 1 Timothy 3 gives the qualifications for pastors, and none of these “men of God” met the Biblical standard. Truth be told, I don’t know of any man who meets the qualifications. The Bible says:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

And let’s not forget about Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

And finally, pastors should be expected to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, yes? Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Taking these three passages of Scripture together, it’s clear that Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard have no business being pastors. In fact, no man is qualified to be a pastor. What about you, Bruce? Were you qualified? Absolutely not. At best, I was a “two out of three ain’t bad” kind of preacher. I really, really, really wanted to be a pastor, so just like every other man to ever pastor a church, I rationalized my shortcomings, telling myself that I would work hard to become a better man and preacher. All in all, I was a feeble, frail, fallible man who hopefully did more good than harm.

In the fall of 1995, I left the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio. I was at Olive Branch for seven months. A quick overview of my ministerial career reveals that I either stayed at churches for a long time or left after a few months — seven months to be exact. That’s right. I left three of the churches I pastored after being there for only seven months — started in the spring, left in the fall. I am sure there is some Freudian shit in there somewhere to unpack.

After leaving Olive Branch, I moved five miles down the road and started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I pastored this church for seven years. One day, I received a letter from a ministerial colleague of mine. He and I met when I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Dick, at the time, was the pastor of an IFB church in nearby New Lexington. The previous pastor had left due to allegations of misconduct. This was Dick’s first and only church. The church had a lot of internal problems. I thought of Dick — a kind, decent man — as a sacrificial lamb. His congregation ripped him to shreds. After a year or so, Dick resigned and returned home to southwest Ohio, never to pastor again.

Dick’s letter was quite pointed. Due to my recent moves from church to church to church, Dick questioned my emotional stability and suggested I reconsider starting a new church. I remember how offended I was by his words. I thought, “Didn’t he know I was a divinely called man of God? Didn’t he know I was just following God’s will?” I never spoke to Dick again, but years later after a size sixty bit of hindsight, I concluded that he was absolutely right. I should have hit the pause button and reevaluated my life. It would be another decade before I stopped thinking that being a pastor was the sum of my life; that not pastoring a church was a betrayal of Jesus and all I held dear. It took me years after that to regain any sense of self. Jesus and the ministry had swallowed up Bruce Gerencser. I lost any sense of personal identity and self-worth. To this day, I see a secular counselor on a regular basis. Therapy is essential to me recovering any sense of mental wellness.

The title of this post is “What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common.” Let me add my name to theirs, and the names of every Evangelical preacher. I am going to admit something here that most preachers will NEVER admit: preachers love the adulation they receive from congregants. They love being the center of attention. They love being the hub around which everything turns. And it is for these reasons fallen, disgraced preachers have a hard time quitting the ministry. Think of all the preachers you know who were drummed out of the ministry, only to start a new church or assume the pastorate of an established church months or years later. I could spend weeks detailing the stories of such men.

“Bruce, why can’t these men quit the ministry?” They are addicts. Standing before fawning congregants on Sundays and being thought of as THE MAN is like crack cocaine. Once you feel the rush, you want more, regardless of what you have to do to get the drug. Preachers need the thrill they feel when doing the work of the ministry. I am not suggesting that all pastors are bad men — they are not. But preachers need to be honest about the emotional and psychological “bump” they get from preaching and ministering to others. It is okay to admit this, preachers. You are human. 

I started blogging in 2007. Come December, this current iteration of my blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. In many ways, this blog is my “church.” Thousands of people read my writing. I reach far more people now than I ever did as a pastor. When my work is well-received, it pleases me and spurs me on to continue writing. My counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; that I have just changed teams. Perhaps. I will leave it to others to make such judgments. I do know that I find writing emotionally gratifying. Whether one hundred people are reading it or five thousand, I am driven to continue to tell my story. That some people find my writing helpful is all the more reason to keep on preaching the humanist gospel.

That said, there are differences between the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry and being a writer. The Evangelical churches I pastored were captive audiences. I was an authority figure, someone given the power to guide, direct, and correct their lives. Today, I pastor a “church” of thousands, yet I have no authority over anyone. Readers are free to come and go; love me or hate me; praise me or ridicule me. Church members were required to tithe and give offerings. Readers are under no such compulsion. They are free to donate, or not. Either way, the “church” remains open for “whosoever will.”

I hope my honesty has not caused you to think any less of me. I know this post will give my critics more ammunition. There’s nothing I can do about that. It is far more important for me to give an open, honest, pointed accounting of my life. I trust you found my words insightful and helpful.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Rick Trotter Saga: Yet Another Example of Churches Not Protecting Members from Sexual Predators

rick trotter

Rick Trotter was once a pastor at Fellowship Memphis — a generic Evangelical church affiliated with the Acts 29 network (started by Mark Driscoll, the disgraced pastor of shuttered Mars Hill in Seattle).  In 2010, Trotter was accused of sexual misconduct. Female church members accused Trotter of secretly filming them in the bathroom. Fellowship Memphis, pastored by John Bryson, fired Trotter. Trotter’s behavior was NOT reported to law enforcement. Trotter was later hired by Downtown Church in Memphis. Downtown is pastored by Richard Rieves.

The leadership of Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Church got together to discuss Trotter’s voyeuristic behavior prior to Downtown Church hiring him. Evidently, they came to the conclusion that he had sufficiently repented, paving the way for Trotter to join the Downtown Church staff. Last May, Trotter was accused of taking upskirt videos of women while they knelt at the church altar. This time, Trotter was arrested and charged with eight counts of photographing people without consent. According to an August 12, 2016 Christian Post article:

Rick Trotter, the man behind the voice of the Memphis Grizzlies who also served as an employee of Downtown Church in Memphis, Tennessee, was arrested Tuesday for “making upskirt videos of church members,” reportedly “while services were going on.”
Court documents cited by WMC says police found videos on Trotter’s church-issued laptop showing him kneeling behind at least four women during worship service and recording under the women’s skirt or dress with his cell phone.

The Grizzlies told The Commercial Appeal that the organization fired Trotter last month, but didn’t announce that until Tuesday, when news of his arrest was made public.

“Rick Trotter is no longer affiliated with the Grizzlies organization. We have no further comment on the matter,” the team said in a statement.

The Appeal noted that the Grizzlies chose Trotter as their announcer in 2006. He had no previous experience in the field and was managing a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta before moving to Memphis to work with his church.

After Trotter’s arrest, Downtown Church released the following statement:

We, the elders of Downtown Church, are deeply saddened to announce that, effective May 27, Rick Trotter was terminated as an employee of Downtown Church. This was the result of deception and moral failures of a sexual nature.

As you can imagine, this revelation has been deeply devastating to all of us. We, as elders, have come around his wife and children offering spiritual, emotional and financial support. We will continue to support and encourage them, and we know the Downtown Church family will follow suit.

We have responded swiftly as information has emerged, with counsel from trusted professionals. As we move forward in this process, we want the congregation to know we are fully committed to operating with integrity and transparency.

On August 11, 2016, Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Church released a joint statement (link no longer active) regarding Rick Trotter’s sexual misconduct:

To ensure our congregations are fully informed, Fellowship Memphis (Fellowship) and Downtown Church (Downtown) have come together to provide a joint narrative with the facts as we understand them regarding Rick Trotter and his employment with our institutions.

Let us first say we are here for the victims. Trotter’s actions are contrary to our values, and we are deeply sorry for the suffering of the victims.

Trotter was employed as a Worship Director by Fellowship from August 2005 to February of 2010.  In February 2010, it was reported that Trotter was engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature at the corporate headquarters of Fellowship. Specifically, a single incident of Trotter recording people in a bathroom was reported. This was immediately reported to Fellowship’s lead pastor at the time. When confronted, Trotter did not deny the charges and was thereby terminated.

The individuals victimized, all adults, by this incident were notified of Trotter’s misconduct, made aware that he had been terminated, and asked whether they wanted to press charges. The victims were also offered independent professional counseling paid for by the church. It is our understanding that none of the victims at that time chose to press charges.

After Trotter’s termination, the church body was informed he was terminated. Upon termination, Fellowship Memphis decided to financially support Trotter’s wife and children along with paying for his three month in-treatment intensive counseling for sex addiction. Trotter was also told he was ineligible for rehire. After his three months of counseling, Trotter asked and was allowed to read a letter of apology confessing to sexual addiction along with other improprieties of a sexual nature to the members of the church body.

In August of 2011, Fellowship Memphis was contacted by Downtown Church about the possibility of Trotter joining their staff.  Prior to joining Downtown Church, elders and church leaders from both churches met to discuss the details concerning Trotter’s termination from Fellowship Memphis.  The leaders openly discussed Trotter’s prior sexual misconduct and the counseling he attended for sexual addiction.

Trotter gave permission for both parties to openly discuss his sexual misconduct. Downtown Church also spoke with several counselors, including two that worked closely with Trotter during his time in counseling, to determine the effectiveness of the treatment as well as his readiness to re-enter the ministry.  Downtown Church also met with Trotter and his wife to assess his readiness to re-enter the ministry as well as overall health.

As a condition of employment, Trotter was given an accountability plan and hired as a part-time subcontractor at Downtown Church in 2011. In 2014, Trotter requested to become a full-time employee and as a condition of full-time employment, was required to make a statement of full-disclosure before the members of Downtown Church. In Trotter’s disclosure, he admitted to the sexual misconduct and issues with voyeurism. Trotter began working full-time and remained in this position until his termination.

The current incident regarding Trotter is under criminal investigation. To ensure we do not disrupt any ongoing investigation or jeopardize the rights of anyone involved, especially the victims, we will refrain from discussing the details of the incident which caused his termination from Downtown Church.

We can state that when Downtown Church discovered an incident of sexual misconduct by Trotter, they immediately investigated the matter, terminated his employment, and turned the matter over to the sex crimes unit of the Memphis Police Department.

Downtown Church also contacted all of the victims (all adults) they could identify and encouraged them to seek independent outside counseling at the church’s expense. The church also told victims they would fully support them if they chose to press criminal charges, and then a congregational meeting was held to inform the body of Trotter’s misconduct and termination.

Obviously we cannot make comments regarding the current criminal investigation, but we will cooperate fully with the authorities to ensure that justice is found.

Thank you for your understanding and we are praying for all involved in this terrible situation.

John Bryson, Lead Pastor of Fellowship Memphis

Richard Rieves, Lead Pastor of Downtown Church

While both churches are circling the wagons and covering their asses with numerous layers of legalese, one of Trotter’s victims is accusing John Bryson and Fellowship Memphis of covering up Trotter’s crimes. Here’s what she had to say, as reported on August 23, 2016 by the Christian Post:

Our worship pastor, Rick Trotter, who is also the PA announcer for the Memphis NBA team, secretly videotaped me, and a host of other women and children in the restroom of the Fellowship Memphis church offices and in his home when he was on staff at the church as the worship pastor,” wrote the victim.

After getting caught by the staff, Rick’s brother in-law, Bryan Loritts, and lead pastor and elder, John Bryson (ACTS29 Board), claimed to have destroyed the evidence (Rick Trotter’s iPhone) after watching the footage. They told all the women that they had consulted an officer and attorney and if we pressed charges it would ruin Rick Trotter’s life and the video would be played in court.

They set up meetings with all the women to sit down individually with Rick Trotter and his wife, Heather, so he could apologize. I can’t tell you how distressing it all was. He was fired from Fellowship Memphis and the church helped pay for him to go to rehab in his home town of Atlanta.

John Bryson denies that there has been a cover up. In fact, he has hired a private investigator to get to the bottom of things. The aforementioned victim had this to say about Bryson:

John Bryson often preaches about the role of women and mothers that lead to men being persecuted, weakened and turned into women. He has taught classes for men in the church and at Downline Ministries on how to stand up to women, their mothers and their wives. Fellowship Memphis was hostile towards women, their role in the church and in families, the church even passed out dish rags to all the women of the church for Mother’s Day! Rick Trotter spent years attending John Bryson’s men’s training called Fight Club. It’s no wonder this issue was swept under the rug.

In the joint statement released by Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Church, pastors Bryson and Rieves stated:

Let us first say we are here for the victims. Trotter’s actions are contrary to our values, and we are deeply sorry for the suffering of the victims.

“We are here for the victims?” Bullshit. If Bryson and Rieves had any concern for the victims they would have reported Trotter to law enforcement in 2010 and they would NEVER have allowed him to be in a position to sexually prey on women again. Bryson had a duty to report the allegations against Trotter. Instead, Bryson, either through negligence or direct action, covered up Trotter’s crimes. Bryson and Rieves later paved the way for Trotter to CONTINUE his disgusting behavior by allowing him to once again be a part of a church staff.

Having reported on these kind of issues for years, I am confident that Trotter’s sexual misconduct in 2010 was not a first time offense. We will learn more once Trotter is brought to trial. As long as churches such as Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Church and pastors such as John Bryson and Rick Rieves turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct — thinking that sexual predators can be rehabilitated through prayer, repentance, and promises — perverts will continue to prey on innocent children, teenagers, and women.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Who in the Hell Do You Think You Are? by Mark Driscoll

mark driscoll

This is the twenty-third installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a clip from a sermon preached by Fundamentalist Mark Driscoll, pastor of the now defunct Mars Hill church in Seattle, Washington. Driscoll’s ugly, abusive behavior led to the implosion of Mars Hill — a church that had 10,000 attendees. Driscoll is now pastoring a new church — The Trinity Church — in Phoenix, Arizona.

Video Link

Bruce Gerencser