Saturday, September 24, 2016

Should I use the word "cult?"

Well, it seems I've crossed some sort of tripwire I didn't know existed between civil discourse and hate speech by using the word "cult" to describe Stanton, and apparently I'm now labeled as vicious, cruel, vindictive, bitter, bloodthirsty, a vigilante, oppressive and tyrannical according to commenter Martin Luther. Wow, tell me how you really feel!

I know, and hopefully you do too, that all these things are untrue, but I'm hopeful that after reading this, you will at least understand my heart a little better. You may not agree, but agreement is not a condition of brotherly love. Remember that?

I have to say I was a bit shocked by this over-the-top denunciation. I consider Martin Luther a friend, although we've never met. I know who he is; we've talked and corresponded a number of times about the abuses of Stanton, and he's provided a number of digital files of lessons. I've never once wanted this blog to be a blunt instrument of vindictiveness or personal attack, and have always made every attempt to make that clear. So to see my motives impugned like this is a little discomforting--did I come across that way to anyone else, or just Martin Luther? I'd like to know your honest opinion.

But I obviously stepped on a nerve. So come, let us reason together.

Let me first start with an apology for offending you, Martin Luther, and anyone else who was truly offended to the core. It was not my goal to attack anyone or to otherwise be incendiary by use of this term. For me, it was just a natural progression of how I've come to view the sect. (Is "sect" a more politically correct term?)

I will more fully explain my use of the term later in this post, but first, let's rewind and respond to some of Martin Luther's comments:
"Yet, ironically, the very one's (sic) claiming on here that Stanton is so oppressive and tyrannical, are the same ones oppressively and tyrannically labelling (sic) them a cult."
"I respect the opinion of those who admit their own faults, which hurt all of us the most, and then highlight Stanton's, but I have no respect for the vigilantes who bloodthirstily pursue Stanton no different from how the Jews once pursued Eichmann. The Jews had a reason, you don't."
"I do realize hurt people hurt people, so I understand it, but if the intent of this site is to heal and not to rip apart further than using the word cult is not the way to go. There are no rewards for viciously attacking ones enemies."
"Of course injustice needs to be addressed, this is indisputable, yet it must be addressed with understanding and not cruel vindictiveness."
"...let it never be said of me that I attacked people and organizations rather than the ideas that caused the behaviors. To say Stanton is an evil wicked cult is exactly why they won't converse with many of us. When debating an opponent, using insults, and the word cult is a supreme insult, is guaranteed to lose the debate."
Let's take one issue at a time. "Enemies?" Really? Can you find anything in my writing that indiciates I consider them enemies? I love these people. I don't know most of them anymore. Many of them knew me as a child, but personally speaking, I don't have a relationship with enough of them to be hurt or considered "enemies."

Second. Does use of the word "cult" necessarily indicate that I'm vicious, cruel, vindictive, bitter, bloodthirsty, a vigilante, oppressive and tyrannical? Objectively, I hope it's apparent to everyone that the answer is negative. Those labels are judgments of what's going on in someone's heart. I think it's important to constantly remind ourselves that we as humans can only judge actions, not motives, because someone's motivations are matters of the heart. Only God can judge motives.

I can be magnanimous about Stanton, giving them the benefit of the doubt about their intentions and motivations, and still conclude that the word "cult" is appropriate, because that word does not impugn their motives or intentions of the heart. I have to assume they sincerely believe they are following God. But I can at the same time believe them to be in a cult, and I'll explain that later.

Martin Luther says:
"Has anyone ever met the person who was told they were in a cult in Stanton and they changed their life around and are now happy and blessed by God? Who was persuaded absolutely by being told they are a cult follower?"
This argument is what kept me from using this word for many years. I didn't believe it would be effective in convincing people, so I stayed away from it, even though I believed it to be true. However, I believe this is a personal decision that everyone has to make about what is going to be the most effective in their relationships with people in the group (here's another politically correct term I think we can all agree on). So this is an argument about the pragmatism of using the word, not the veracity of it.

Before getting into the accuracy of the term as applied to Stanton, let me first explain my increased use of it. I started off, as I've said, avoiding the term. I opted for the word "sect." This was intentional, because I felt that it would be a turn-off to some people and they wouldn't listen past that. Perhaps that was the best route, and I've erred in straying from that.

But let me add another side of this. My family has been divided by this sect's authoritarian teachings for nearly 48 years now. I've seen it tear countless marriages apart, spiritually and sometimes physically. I've seen it estrange fathers from their children for generations, with new generations raised to think that is OK. I have, during the past 20 years, attempted various ways of reaching my family members in the group with a more accurate view of God, the Bible, grace, love, forgiveness; all the things I've written about on this blog.

But this avoidance of the term "cult" hasn't produced the intended fruit. My mom remains in her bondage to the unbiblical "counsel" of fallible humans, as do many other subjects of the various teachers in the group. Using the word cult was a considered decision, one taken as a result of my strong belief that more and more generations are getting roped into Stanton's divisive teachings, and that needs to stop.

I've used this analogy before: Stanton's throwing people into the river, and I'm tired of simply trying to pull people out down river. I want to stop them from throwing anyone else into the river, and empower people who might be on the verge of letting themselves be thrown in the river to say "wait a minute, this isn't right." And hence my increased use of the word "cult." I believe it is accurate, the only question is if it will be more effective than the alternative. The jury is out on that one. I've spent at least 20 years of trying the one approach. My mom may not have many years left. She's 83 years old. For me—and maybe it's just for me, but maybe others are at this point, too—it's time to try something different. They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results.

Maybe after trying this approach, it will also prove to be ineffective. That's a very real possibility. I just don't know. What I do know is that I use the term in good conscience, and with no desire to offend. For me, I'm making a sincere application of this verse:

Jude 22-23 - Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

For you, maybe you're not there yet. Maybe you don't see your situation as urgent, needing to pull someone out of the fire. That's OK. Just try to be patient with me, then, because that's where my heart is.

So let's talk about the definition of a cult

Stanton has often cited a dictionary definition of "cult" to say that by this definition, Jesus was in a cult. Martin Luther wrote:
"Cult: a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. That means everyone who follows Jesus is in a cult. LOL."
"If Stanton is a cult than Martin Luther, and Alexander Campbell were cults too, but I don't suppose you've bothered studying them have you?"
Actually, Martin Luther, I have read Campbell extensively, dating back to my teen years, and I'm 48 this month. I own and have read dozens of his books, debates, and periodicals. I've read all seven years of his Christian Baptist magazines in an effort to understand the roots of the movement I was raised in and decide for myself what is Biblical and what's not. I've read several large volumes of that publication's successor, Millennial Harbinger, as well as books and articles about the movement and Campbell himself.

I can tell you unequivocally that Stanton bears almost no resemblance to the movement that Alexander Campbell was instrumental in starting.

  • Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it's silent? Are you kidding me? Stanton's the opposite of this, adding layer upon layer of their teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men.
  • Campbell's was a unity movement to unite "the Christians in the sects." Stanton denies there are even Christians in those sects, outsides its own hyper-sectarian walls.
  • Campbell was an advocate for freedom of conscience devoid of bondage to human creeds. Stanton "rabbis" enforce the radical antithesis of freedom of conscience.
But I digress.

Using the above dictionary definition of "cult" doesn't hold up to reason. We agree that neither Jesus nor Alexander Campbell were members of a cult. Therefore, I know we agree that this particular definition of cult is not the one we're discussing.

Instead of cherry-picking the most benign definition to argue from, let's look at Webster's full definition of cult:
1:  formal religious veneration :  worship
2:  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents
3:  a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also :  its body of adherents
4:  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
5 a :  great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially :  such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b :  the object of such devotion
c :  a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
There is a lot of room in these definitions for different types of cults, and different (but accurate) uses of the word. The ancient pagan gods were cults. They were a system of religious beliefs and rituals, also including an object of devotion (the supposed deity or the physical idol it represented).

The one that I would use in reference to Stanton is #3, a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious, as well as #5a, a great devotion to a person or idea, and #5c, a small group of people characterized by such devotion.

Could mainstream Christianity, if you stretch the meaning of words, be shoehorned into some of these definitions? Of course. So can the word "sect." But we all know exactly what we're talking about. We're talking about an undue idolization of a group above all other groups. I sincerely believe that Stanton has become the modern equivalent of idolatry for many members.

Martin Luther says:
"The Bible does teach if you don't obey the church it designed, you are going to hell. What do they [Stanton] have to apologize for?"
And that's where it becomes idolatry, I would argue. The Bible does not say to obey Stanton. Our obligation is to obey God rather than men. It is never sacrilege to disobey unbiblical doctrines, no matter who teaches them. If the church as an institution is in authority over our lives, then we must all become Catholics and return to the Mother Church, seeking to reform it.

I'll choose instead to expend my energies trying to reform my own heart and the hearts of others I may have an ounce of influence on. I don't really care about the institution of Stanton. I care about the people within its walls who are being enslaved by its ideology; the ideology that in it alone can truth be found. That's just patently false and destructive to the souls of men every time it's tried.

One person told me recently that he had a conversation with someone in the group and pointed out a factual string of abuses of the church. The response was absolute horror that he would dare say this, as if God might strike him dead for simply pointing this out. That is what I mean when I say the church has become an idol, and is why I am comfortable using the word "cult" in a factual sense. We should never be horrified at the mere thought of questioning with boldness what we've been taught.

As for whether Stanton is truly a cult, this of course depends on whether you believe their ideology or not. From the inside, this most certainly wouldn't be acknowledged. "I'm in a cult"--said no cult member ever. It is only with outside perspective that it becomes obvious; when you see the real life effects of families broken up, husbands ditched for loyalty to the teachings of mere men, and lifelong relationships tossed aside should one dare question the authority of the church.

There are many good articles on identifying characteristics of cults, as people most commonly use that term. Some identifying marks that I think are largely useful come from this article:
  1. All your friends believe just like you do. It is one thing to all have similar world views. That happens in churches, clubs, political parties, etc. But when there is absolutely no room for dissent, this can be a sign your'e in a cult.
  2. Nobody questions authority. Reasonable people in leadership positions do not exercise totalitarian or authoritarian control over people. When you have a culture that makes everyone fearful of even holding an opinion that might contradict an authority figure, much less voice it, this can be a sign you're in a cult.
  3. The source of authority is vested in a person. Most cults have an authority figure who claimed special knowledge or insight from God. This person cannot be criticized without being denounced or reprimanded, because to call into question their authority would call into question the very existence of the group.
  4. Doctrine must not be questioned. Authority of the leaders (#2 above) is one type of control, and Stanton uses this in binding teachers' "counsel" on members. But this extends to doctrine as well. The teachings that come out of May Week are held to be authoritative (at least until next year).
  5. Secrecy and excommunication. This is a big warning sign for Stanton. They attempt to maintain a high level of secrecy, and do not want their churches to have websites or lessons published on the Internet. Paul would have loved the openness of the Internet. Stanton has had entire talks given at meetings about the need for secrecy. The "excommunication" or withdrawal as a tool to stifle dissent is also a warning sign.
But there are plenty of other good articles with identifying marks of a cult. The more you read about modern authoritarian groups, the more you will see the many similarities to Stanton. I have a unique perspective in that I have lived the history of this group from the time I was born. I have talked to first-hand sources who knew Merie growing up in the 50's, and who knew her family going back decades before that.

My perspective may not be accepted or shared by everyone here, but I ask for your patience in accepting my heart that my use of the word is not meant to be an attack, but a statement of fact as I see it. Whether the term will be useful in the cause of bringing people closer to the Jesus of the Bible remains to be seen. But I suspect that truth-telling, no matter how difficult that truth is to swallow, can always be useful if offered in love, as I've tried to do.

It's my hope and prayer that being a little more direct with the use of this word will shake someone up enough to take the question seriously of whether Stanton really is a cult or not. What do you think? Is it a cult? Was I out of bounds for using the word? You tell me. Please share your thoughts, because I really do want to hear other perspectives.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tackling the hard job of living Christlike

1 comment:
Ever notice that when your kids really don’t want to do something, they will find anything and everything else to do before getting to the undesirable job? Forget the kids, I do this myself. Sometimes the hard tasks get postponed for something else that might truly be a good thing to do. Even a great thing to do. Nevertheless, the good becomes an escape to avoid the better, and easier wins out over harder. When this happens in our Christian walk, the ivory tower of Christianity ends up trumping real life. Process trumps results.

So it can be if we become preoccupied with doctrinal issues (by that I mean "what is the correct opinion on XYZ issue?") to the exclusion of the hard job of Christian living. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that correct opinions on who Jesus is, what he came for, and how to follow him are unimportant. But I will go out on a limb here and say that once a person is a believer, the most important struggle is not to accurately parrot the teachings of the church you attend, or grasp the finer points of theology or eschatology, or even the most interesting ones. The most important challenge for believers is to understand our own hearts and turn them to do the Lord’s work.

“What’s so hard about Christian living?” you say. How about being Christlike to the waiter who was really bad at customer service? How about choosing entertainment for ourselves and our families that isn’t in conflict with Christian morality and living? How about stepping up to lead our families, rather than letting them meander aimlessly through the spiritual minefields of the pop culture? How about resisting the urge to pass on that very interesting tidbit of gossip about a brother or sister in Christ (or anyone else, for that matter), and choosing to take James’ advice seriously:
James 4:11 – Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
If we’re truly honest about ourselves, these types of Christian living issues are where the rubber meets the road in Christianity, not the endless flow of opinions of men expounded and debated in the Stanton sect during May Week. All those meetings are good for is for teachers to oppress the consciences of the subjects with their own fallible opinions. We can't use these doctrinal debates to escape the hard work of living a life sold out for Jesus Christ.

Just as the theologians of Jesus’ day were escaping the front lines of the battle that takes place in the heart by retreating to the desk job of interpreting the law for everyone else, we too can escape the heart and soul of Christianity if we become overly preoccupied with matters of opinon that matter little to God at all. (Does God really care what organizational means we use to help the fatherless and widows, or does he just care that we help the fatherless and widows?)

My kids can put off their hard chores for awhile by doing easier ones. Eventually, though, they’ll have to answer to me for why they didn’t do what I really wanted them to do.
Isaiah 29:13 – The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Confessions from Donna Bennum

Donna sent me the following letter addressed to the people she knew during her time as a teacher in the cult. I'm publishing it here to help her reach out to them, whether they are still in the SCOC or not. Wow, thank you Donna. This took a lot of courage--the spirit of Christ is very evident in your life.
Confessions from Donna Bennum 
Confessions concerning those I sinned against while a member of a specific sect of the church of Christ, from January 1978 through August 2014. 
I was baptized into this sect in January 1978 in Des Moines, Iowa. My husband (Bill Bennum) and I, we're married in April,1978. We were sent out to help grow a congregation in 1981, to Springfield, Il. We were there for ten years. From there we moved to Decatur, Il. We were there for a year before we were sent to Erie, PA. We lived in Erie, Pa and Girard, PA. for three and a half years. We moved back to Des Moines, then to Oxnard, CA., then back to Des Moines, IA.
I mention the locations for the mere reference of those congregation I served in.  Most of those years I served in the capacity of a teacher, and often as a counselor. I affected many members, families, non-members, and children of members. 
For anyone that I adversely affected by my pride, and oppression, and judgements I made against them- I ask your forgiveness. I lifted myself up in pride when I was found in favor with the older teachers. I detest who I became! 
Please forgive me for teaching this oppressive doctrine of MAN and trying to enforce this doctrine, often with no mercy or grace. Please forgive me for pleasing and serving MAN by continuing in the capacity of a teacher, and cast judgements on those I dealt with unjustly. 
I was a HYPOCRITE. I had no business teaching. Albeit, as it is a FALSE TEACHING, I still treated people with no respect or compassion at times.
I HATE that I took part in interrogation of the minds of people, and of the marriage beds of members. This was ungodly and devilish! Forgive me for arrogantly lifting myself above you. Forgive me, please, for getting into your personal business- especially of how to raise your children, or concerning very personal issues, and marriages. 
Please forgive me for scrutinizing your behavior and what you wore. Please forgive me for doing the bidding of the teachers, counsellors and evangelists- and burdening you with these corrupt judgements. This involves so many years and locations and people, and SITUATIONS, that I don't know how I will ever make amends with individuals. 
Please accept this for the wrongs I have committed against you, and I pray my God will be gracious to me as I have repented of these grievous sins against you all and against Him. Forgive me for teaching a doctrine that is NOT CHRIST and of God, but rather from MAN. 
I decided I needed to take this step to be able to continue my journey of growth with my Savior.  If anyone has ought against me, PLEASE CONTACT ME.  You can PM me
on FB and I will give you my contact information. 

If I could go back to everyone I have every 'taught' these hypocrisies- I would share with them that THIS SECT is not portraying the TRUE AND LIVING GOD. 
There IS a Great God in heaven! He is my redeemer. He brought me up out of a HORRIBLE PIT. He is merciful. He does not condemn or cast judgement or scrutinize. He loves us while we are yet sinners.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The victim-shaming has to stop

As the father of four daughters, I have to say how stunned I am at the lack of empathy among teachers for the victims of sexual abuse in the cult—and this is from the very top of the "teacher" hierarchy. I have often commented to my wife about the lack of empathy in the Stanton COC. An underlying failing of the sect is a culture that is completely lacking in self-awareness; the inability to put oneself in another's shoes, even for a brief moment. This relates to the topic of judging—in order to dismiss a victim of abuse, you must judge them as bringing it on themselves. But more on judging another time.

I've found empathy to be one of the most rewarding life-skills. Not that I'm great at it. But I do recognize that it's one thing to sympathize—to feel sorry for someone in their distress. It is another thing entirely to empathize—to feel what they feel. This is what Scripture says about empathy:

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." - Galatians 6:2 
"Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep." - Romans 12:15 
"Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important." - Galatians 6:2-3  
"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves." - Romans 15:1 
"Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." - Philippians 2:2-4
"Try to do what is good for others, not just what is good for yourselves." - 1 Corinthians 10:24 
"Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." - 1 Corinthians 10:33 
"This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad." - 1 Corinthians 12:25-26
Indeed. All this takes empathy, which is several pay grades above sympathy.

So what is it with the victim-shaming at Stanton? By that, I am speaking of times when sexual abuse has happened, and instead of the perpetrator being called to account by teachers, the victim was blamed for not being spiritual enough. I don't care what faults the victim might have, it doesn't excuse the perpetrator from his or her actions.

I know something about this, since I had a foster daughter who was sexually assaulted after putting herself in a very unsafe situation. Yet what she needed to hear was empathy—whatever bad choices she made didn't excuse the crime of the perpetrator. The perpetrator still was responsible for his actions. I hoped that she learned from the experience, but I also hoped that the perpetrator would be brought to justice.

How do I know anything about this, being a male? Because I love. When you love someone, you desperately seek their well-being, feel their pain, mentor them when you can, and rejoice in their victories. You don't look down your nose at them. That's not love.

That's what is missing from Stanton's power structure. Love and justice. Victims are shamed into a lifetime of guilt for actions that took place decades ago, either as innocent preteens, or as young teens when they were naive and vulnerable to the overtures of manipulative abusers.

But the power structure of Stanton COC continues to cover up the sexual abuse of members and children of members, for the sake of keeping the power structure in place. This is a gross abuse of authority, and must be stopped. If  you have firsthand knowledge—and I emphasize the "firsthand" part—of sexual abuse covered up by the church, please email me confidentially.

Please don't comment publicly, especially with names, unless it's your story to tell; and even then, I ask for some caution. I can't guarantee any specific course of action. I would just like to know how deep this goes, and figure out the wisest, most Christlike course of action based on what information comes to light. I have no doubt there are some people squirming right now. As they should be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Overcoming your fear of leaving - by Debby Stevens

For anyone who has been thinking about leaving any of the Stanton CoC groups, but has been frozen by fear, Debby Stevens shared some very well-written thoughts from the heart yesterday that you need to read. I had people emailing me asking to put her comments into a single post so they don't get lost in the comment rotation, and I agree. My favorite quote: "If you leave the group, it doesn't mean you have left God. Actually, you may be leaving so that you can continue to follow Him, and Christ." Thank you, Debby, for sharing. 
I have something on my heart and it's been there for awhile, and I'd like to share it if ones will bear with me!
It wasn't just one thing that opened my eyes that I needed to leave the Stanton group. It was a lot of little things. Early on in my Christianity I had taken a scripture completely to heart and followed it "In all thy getting, get understanding." So I prayed and strove to understand scripture, my heart and God and Jesus. This led me to ask a lot of questions. 
It was in that pursuit that I came to realize that the church that was first presented to me by the group was not the one I was actually a part of. For years I had labored under the delusion that it was a "church" that really did follow the bible and only "spoke where the bible spoke and was silent where the bible was silent." 
I knew that what I saw and heard being done in the group was not right. I heard things being taught as doctrine but were actually private interpretations and personal opinions. 
And, most of all, I was living with the realization that what I was seeing in my bible and what I was being taught by the group were not compatible. In fact, they were opposite. For now, I'm not going to get into what those things are, that's not the point of what I'm trying to say.
I'm speaking to those who are still in the group, and are living in fear everyday. You are actually a sheep in wolves' clothing. Outwardly you try to appear as if you are believing the same as the are, but inwardly you know you are not. And you are walking and living among them knowing that if they find you out, they will attack and devour you. You have seen what they do to those who dared to oppose them, even if done privately. 
My heart and prayers go out to and for you. Because I understand the conflict you feel, and the fear you live with everyday. You may be asking yourself "what to do? If I leave, where will I go?" Even though you realize the Stanton group does not have the truth and doesn't honor it, you have been taught that no one else does either. But what you need to remember is that we all have the Holy Spirit. Remember that He is in you, will guide you to all truth. He's not just there for "teachers and leaders" in the group. He will guide you into understandings just as He has been all along. 
If you leave the group, it doesn't mean you have left God. Actually, you may be leaving so that you can continue to follow Him, and Christ. If you remain with the group, you cant really and truly follow Christ without getting into trouble with the group. You might even be withdrawn from.
This conflict over the group vs Christ will not go away by staying in the group. Instead, it will eat at you and will wear you down. It will begin to dull your conscience. 
It takes great courage to walk away. Especially when you have given so much of yourself and life to the group. But take a look around you, think about it. Of all the people that have left the group, how many were really and truly anxious to return? I sure haven't seen a great crowd beating feet to get back in. 
If you decide to leave, you have help here. I'm willing to share what worked for me, and I believe there are others here too that would be willing. Know that you are lovable, and are loved! 
My prayers are for you, love Debby

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rabbis, Teachers, and Freedom of Conscience

Where do our rights, like the freedom of conscience, come from? The Bill of Rights? Government? Church leaders? The Bible? God?

The real question is do they come from God or from man? If from man, they can be taken away, because what man has a right to give, he has a right to take away. If our rights, on the other hand, come from God, mere mortals cannot take them away. Politicians, kings, and despots may come and go, and may very well infringe on those rights. But they lord illegitimate authority, not God-given authority. The rights that unprincipled men usurp, in a proper worldview, can still be returned to their rightful owners by rejecting the usurpers. This is the concept of “natural rights.”

This idea is essential to American liberty, but should not be confused as a “political” idea. The concept is critical to all of humanity, greatly affecting our liberty from those in every generation who would attempt to rule over us, not just in the political realm, but in the spiritual as well. As humans, we must know from whom our rights originate. If we don't, we'll be easily enslaved, as the whole of human history shows.

Like the people who followed the Pharisees, the people following Stanton's teachers have given their freedom of conscience over to them—not unlike Esau selling his birthright—and thus put themselves in bondage to them. And yes, “teachers” at Stanton are an exact replica of the ”rabbis” of Jesus's day in a very real sense, since “rabbi” just means “teacher," and their sole purpose is to interpret the will of God for the people.

This bondage to the opinions of fallible humans is expressed by “seeking counsel” from the religious authorities--the teachers--not just in major decisions, like who you can date or marry, or where you can move, but also in everyday decisions, like what activities are acceptable for parents to let their kids take part in, whether you can have a glass of wine at a restaurant with your wife, or what clothing you can wear (without getting rebuked or looked down upon, at least).

In short, every decision in life must be run through the “counsel” of these self-appointed “rabbis.” In the first century, this was expressed by asking the rabbis if they should tithe their spice rack, or how long was a sabbath day’s journey, and if it’s “work” to help your ox out of a ditch. Now, it’s expressed by asking the rabbis if a family vacation is OK, or if one can go into another church’s meeting place for a wedding, or whether women can wear ankle bracelets. And the list goes on. And don’t think you can speak out against this rabbi class without repercussions. Remember, your right to hold your own conscience sacrosanct—to stand or fall before God alone—has been handed to the rabbis. You've sold that birthright for a bowl of soup, or pretended "unity."

Without true freedom of conscience, leaders cannot lead, they can only enforce. They become tyrants lording their own consciences over their subjects, whether intentionally or not; whether maliciously or not. This is indisputable when church members have no freedom of conscience of their own to form their own opinions.

And this is the crux of the bondage Stanton members are in. They willfully hand their consciences over to their teachers/preachers/rabbis/pastors/overlords (a rose by any other name...), in the same way a Catholic might subject his conscience to that of his priest or pope.

Opinions are handed down from above, and the people must accept them or have their consciences pressured, usually by social repercussions, into submission. But as my parents used to tell me as a teen, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” He just can't tell anyone without fear of reprisal.

The irony is that Alexander Campbell led the charge in freeing men's consciences from the shackles of other religious leaders of his day. He argued strenuously for the elimination of manmade creeds, equating them to instruments of torture for the consciences of free people in his essay The Parable of the Iron Bedstead. But the heirs of his movement in the Stanton sect have designed stronger and more cunning shackles, all but stripping any freedom of conscience from their subjects.

Stanton teachers may not have written creeds, but they sure do have plenty of unwritten ones. And one dare not cross them, under penalty of “withdrawal” for “murmuring.” As the saying goes, if you want to know who your masters are, find out who you’re not allowed to criticize.

How do we know that God meant for his people to be free to follow their own consciences? Simple. Every sermon in the New Testament scriptures and every letter written to the first century churches appealed to the reason of the hearers and readers. When Peter preached his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost, his words were intended to convince the audience, not coerce them. “Come let us reason together,” Isaiah wrote. Remember that?

If Peter, or Jesus, or Paul, or any other New Testament writer had appealed to their religious authority instead of simple persuasion, we would be having a different discussion. They didn’t. They presented evidence and arguments with the intention of educating consciences, not bringing them around by compulsion.

We have only to recognize Luke’s praise of the Bereans as “more noble than those in Thessalonica” to see this principle in action. Why were they “more noble?” Because they searched the scriptures for themselves, not because they “sought counsel” from the most highly esteemed rabbis. Or the “evangelist” or “teacher,” for that matter.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The hypocrisy of the murmuring charge

The charge of murmuring is an easy weapon in the hands of Stanton teachers and preachers to strike fear into the hearts of the flock should they get the crazy notion of disagreeing with them. The cleverness of the charge is its easy adaptation to any situation. Nearly any disagreement can be twisted into an accusation of so-called "murmuring," complete with vivid imagery of Korah leading his insurrection against Moses.

"We must keep the church pure," they say. Indeed. Pure of reasoned discussion and honest inquiry. Pure of anyone who dares seek truth more than the approval of men.

Of course, God did actually speak audibly to Moses and put him in the position of being his spokesperson, and Korah did actually lead the people in a revolt against this God-anointed spokesperson. But let's not get caught up in minor details.

The irony of this use of the "murmuring" charge—somehow lost on members—is that speaking out against teachers and preachers was precisely how the Stanton sect was formed (see Founding Documents). Merie poked and prodded the preachers of her day, writing them public letters and castigating them for scriptural differences of opinion. She even went so far as to mail copies of her letters to individuals in the churches she was addressing just to make sure everyone heard her side of the story.

But in a classic revolution-turned-establishment chess move to protect the queen, Stanton changed the rules to outlaw what it had just done. This set the stage for a constant habit of whitewashing its past, and covering its own tracks. Murmuring was considered by Stanton to be a legitimate tool in their revolt against the "preacher system"—without it, they would not exist—but the leadership couldn't allow their own members to turn the weapon of murmuring against them. So they used the threat of withdrawal to squash any hint of dissent.

The hypocrisy in the second paragraph of Merie's letter to Forrest Moyer is stunning:
"[E]very Christian has a right and a responsibility to express as well as to teach those things which they honestly believe to be scriptural without being called a false teacher, or one who perverts the word of God. Inasmuch as the church is so divided upon so many things, and cannot come into an agreement upon hardly anything, it ill behooves a preacher to denounce and call names because he happens to disagree with that which is taught by others."
For all the people withdrawn from by Stanton for supposedly "murmuring" because they voiced a disagreement with a teacher, yes, this is exactly what Merie did in the very letter in which she defended every Christian's right to freely dissent from teachers and preachers of her day. Hypocrisy much?

But I've heard the case of the Grecians' murmuring in Acts 6 cited as an example of the kind of thing Christians need to be withdrawn from for (an unscriptural term, but that's another story). This is so grossly out of context as to be laughable if it weren't so sad. The lack of even a basic level of Bible knowledge here is once again stunning for a sect built on the claim that they alone have the truth. 

From their favored KJV:
Acts 6:1 - And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
I would like to ask the Bible scholars at Stanton what the church did in response to this "murmuring" of the Grecians against the Hebrews? Did they "withdraw" from the offenders? Did they publicly rebuke them for impugning the twelve apostles? They were the ones leading the flock, after all. No, here is what they did. They listened to them. That's right. The leadership listened to the "murmurers" and made significant changes.
Acts 6:2-6 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
The Greek christians were complaining (murmuring), legitimately, that their widows were being neglected in daily ministry in favor of the Hebrew widows. The response was not to call a meeting and punish the Greek whistleblowers. It was to call a meeting and create a more organized division of duties. The church appointed deacons (servants) to take care of matters like this so the apostles didn't have to. They fixed the problem that was being complained about because it was a legitimate complaint!

This is a far cry from today's crop of teachers and preachers who ignore the legitimacy of any dissenting views and simply lord their power over the flock. They squash dissent with a heavy hand using trumped-up charges of murmuring.

But just as one person's May Week is another person's Baptist Convention, one person's murmuring, it seems, is another person's whistleblowing. To one, it's a tool of reform. To the other, it's a tool of fear and intimidation to keep people in line. This, my brothers, ought not to be.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My story, by Tracy Geautreau

My name is Tracy Gautreau and I was a member of the Stanton, Chino and San Antonio Church of Christ for nearly 30 years before I left in November of 2005. Where to begin?

I was baptized in December of 1977 into the Stanton Church of Christ. I was 17 years old, believed in God, but was totally ignorant of the Bible and had never heard of the Church of Christ before. I was dating my boyfriend John Gautreau at the time. John was baptized 6 months after me and we were married in December of 1978.

In 1983 we had 2 sons and moved to Chino CA to help start the church there. 1996-now with 9 children, we left our home and moved to San Antonio, TX to help the congregation there. Here we would have our 10th and last child.

John and I would be teacher and preacher to this congregation and in 2005 we would be withdrawn from for murmuring and ultimately leave after being forbidden to make our confession to return to fellowship. In the nearly 30 years that I was a part of this group, I was withdrawn from twice. The first in 1985 for causing division. I disagreed with the teaching that in order for a man to stand before the congregation on Sunday that he must wear a suit jacket and tie, as well as the teaching that women must have their feet covered (re: no sandals without stockings under them).

Again in March of 2005 for murmuring. John and I had attended the March week (May week in March) in Alabama. There were things being taught that I did not feel that I could teach in San Antonio (re: that Christians could not buy sparkling grape juice (appearance of evil), that Christians could not go to tanning booths (youthful lust, but tanning creams were ok), that women and girls could not wear thong underwear (as was said by one of the evangelists: one would have to have the mind of a stripper to wear such a thing).

I spoke with Kim Smith at that meeting and told her that I could not teach these things in San Antonio, as I felt they were opinions and not law. Also at the meeting it was discussed publicly concerning activities we could or could not allow our children to participate in (paintball was one). I went up to the microphone and said that lists are endless, and that as parents, we should be able to discern these issues for ourselves and make up our own minds for our own children).

Needless to say this did not go over well, and combined with my disagreements on the other issues, both John and I were sat down. I suppose John was sat down because he agreed with me. Gary Preman came to TX and discovered that we had NOT spoken of our disagreements to anyone in the congregation and therefore we were not withdrawn from. However, we were, what I can only describe as "shunned." For about 3 months or so we were not really spoken to or even said hello to, which I had never experienced before.

Some brethren felt quite free to speak of us behind our backs, which was very hurtful. Deeply confused and hurt, I called Kim Smith and was told that I should not need encouragement. I was (I am not proud to say) quite emotional and complained to my son and my daughter in law. My daughter in law felt what was being done and said about us was wrong, went to Kim and was reproved herself. Shortly thereafter both John and I were withdrawn from for murmuring.

During this 8 months of sitting down and being withdrawn from, I decided that I needed to go back to the basics and read the gospel as if I had never read it before; to read it with a mind void of the influence and understandings of others. I saw a gospel that I had quoted for years, but my eyes had been blinded to.

I decided to start with the life of Christ...God coming to this earth and preaching for a mere 3 years....what is the main message to mankind? I found love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, humility, goodness, kindness, reproof to those religious zealots that looked down on others in their own self righteousness, those who bound man, made rules on others, and taught them as if they were the law of God. I was reproved to my very core.

For nearly 30 years I had been teaching, reproving, gossiping, despising, judging...because this is what I had been taught by example to do. I was deeply ashamed of myself, because I alone am responsible for what I had done and allowed myself to become. I thought that maybe when I came back, after I had been quiet for awhile (because there is a political correctness to all of this), that I could begin to share what I had learned about love and what Christianity is really all about.

I learned that for years, I had set man on a throne that belongs only to God; that I had feared and lived for man, and lost sight of God. I was ashamed of all of the people I had hurt over the years, all of those I despised in my heart because they were not doing well according to mans standards. Ashamed that I did not know so many of my brethren, because I had spent so much time judging them and teaching them, that I was no longer a student.

I learned that the only reason I had been so hurt by what others did and said, was because I had given them power over me. If God had truly been my King, and the only one I looked to, it would not matter what others said of me, or thought of me. I would have had the spiritual maturity to confront them about what they had said and leave it there. I would know that whatever others said and thought of me does not define me.

I was ready to make my confession. I went and spoke with the new teacher and preacher and shared with them what I had learned. They said it sounded good, and they would get back with me. After counseling with Kim and Gary, they asked me where I was with the issues that I did not agree on. I told them that I was not withdrawn from for disagreeing on judgments, but for murmuring in regard to what had transpired while I was sitting down. They told me that I needed more time to think about the issues I disagreed with.

By this time, I knew that God is my King, and if He says to repent and confess, then that is what I need to do. My not seeing eye to eye with them on judgments was not a part of my withdrawal and therefore it was not scriptural to keep me on withdrawal for something I was not withdrawn from for.

I told them I would stand to make my confession and let the congregation decide. Of course, they would not allow me to make my confession and I left. I did send out my confession to the members, and of course they were instructed not to read it. I left that night not knowing where I would go, but God in his goodness and love guided me and continues to do so each and every day.

It has taken me a long time to share my story, most notably because I prefer to look forward and move on with my life than to look back and relive it over and over again. I have learned that what others say about me does not affect my life and that I can live before God and be thankful He alone is my judge. If others get off on speaking ill of me, than by all means go at it...because it does not affect my eternity nor change my happiness.

This life is so much bigger than the small little bubble I was in for so many years. This life is a journey and what has transpired has changed me for the better. I do not want this to be a story about me, because in reality my life story is about God, my Savior, my Deliverer, my hope, my Anchor, my Everything. It is my prayer, that each one of us will look to Him and to Him alone.

Grace--a word so frequently mentioned in the Bible that we cannot deny it--but I had no idea what it meant, how powerful it is, and how deeply I must rely on it each and every day! I have learned, by God's loving hand, that I cannot work my way into heaven or somehow earn my salvation. Christ is enough! What I do, I do because of thankfulness! Grace does not exclude merely excludes the merits of works.

My confidence is not in could it be?? I am never good enough! My confidence is in Him and Him his goodness, his mercy, his forgiveness...his love for me. There is peace and comfort that overwhelms my soul in this understanding. I have learned that man can only oppress me when I give them that power. There are no words, no schemes, no devices or weapons formed by the mind of man that can hurt our soul as long as our eyes are fixed upon Him alone.

When I left, I knew no one. God led us to the Bulverde Church of Christ and we were nurtured in the love of God. For the last few years we have been attending Oak Hills Church. My worship is truly worship. It is all about HIM and giving HIM my praise and glory. Never will I give that to a man again.

My story is not finished, and like you, I am a continual work in progress. I ask that you have patience with me, just as I will with you...because we are all just a snapshot in time, and what you see today, will not be what you see in 5 years. Hopefully in 5 years I will be more beautiful within, more like my Maker.

My past has been an important part of my future. It is a vital part of who I am becoming. I do not like to look back and dwell on all that was done wrong to me, just as I hope others will not dwell on all I have done wrong to them. Forgiveness goes a long way and we all are in need of it, so lets practice the art of giving it, especially to those who never ask us for it. <3

Thursday, September 1, 2016

When the revolutionaries become the establishment

Back in 2013, an anonymous commenter left the following quiz in the comments:
Today's Quiz: Who wrote the following quote? 
"The members of the church have a right to question and ask for Bible answers from those who are doing the preaching. But this is considered almost tantamount to heresy by the preachers of today; and if a member persists in such he is usually slandered and called a trouble-maker...We should know our Bible and we should be ready and willing to take a stand for the truth. We are commanded to 'contend for the truth.' But this can hardly be done seeing that the church is ignorant and the preachers are content to have it so. Individually and collectively we should take scriptural stands upon all subjects..." 
a.) Thomas Aquinas
b.) Joan of Arc
c.) Bruce Springsteen
d.) Merie Weiss 
Correct answer: d. 
Any irony here?
When a revolutionary movement stops moving, it is no longer the revolution, but the establishment. We see this all the time in international upheavals. There is a coup d'├ętat, and the leader of the revolution seizes power. He becomes a dictator, accruing followers based on lofty-sounding ideals like income inequality, or universal healthcare, or a roast in every pot.

Then the inevitable happens. Reality bites back. Leading proves to be harder than talking about it, and rebellions start to occur. Mini-rebellions are put down, and greater and greater control is exercised over followers to protect the core leadership at the top. Before long, the revolution has become the establishment, and new green shoots of a counter-revolutionary movement start to take root to challenge it.

Sound familiar? The Stanton sect is no more immune to this natural flow of human power over its peers than its secular counterparts. If you familiarize yourself with its richly ironic history linked in the main menu of this site, you'll see the seeds of a movement that wanted to seize power away from what it perceived as the corrupt "preacher system." They encouraged their fellow revolutionaries to fight the establishment by questioning those doing the preaching.

It is very apparent that Stanton's modern leadership does not want the same spirit of Biblical inquiry turned against them. And so the revolutionaries become the establishment.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The attempt to crash my dad's funeral

At first, I did not want to post the story of what really happened on the day of my dad's funeral publicly, but then I found out that other Stanton-affiliated congregations were slandering me and the Ezell kids for "causing turmoil." To set the record straight, here is a short account of what really happened.

First, to honor my dad, here is a link to the program for his memorial service. If you knew him, or want to know a little more about him, this is a good place to start. Also, at the end of this post is a short video tribute I prepared. It's about 10 minutes of photos from different time periods of his life, set to some great acappella songs. He loved to sing tenor and bass.

He was frequently maligned by the Stanton group in the years following his departure from Stanton, and after his death, they tried to strip any reference to God from his memorial service. But the rest of the family insisted on providing a more accurate picture of his life, which was steeped in faith, imperfect as he was (as we all are). My sons and I led some of his favorite songs, my sisters and I shared memories, and I preached a eulogy (below). We then proceeded to a military honors ceremony, and then to my mom's for an open house.

Stanton church members who wouldn't fellowship with my dad during his life, insisted on showing up at his funeral after his death, even going so far as to come to my mom's house to share a meal. In their view, they were there to support my mom, so we let it go on that basis. If they wanted to support my mom, we felt it should have been done on a different day, since they were the ones who disfellowshipped him. We thought it rude and a bit awkward that they would want to come at all, but we let it go and figured that somehow, God would be lifted up. Within a few minutes of arriving at my mom's house for the open house, however, they tried to keep another family member ("withdrawn from" like my dad by the cult) from coming into the house to eat with us.

At this point, we felt the Christlike thing to do was to take the celebration of my dad's life to my house, so this brother would not be unjustly isolated from the gathering. We took enough food (most of which my sisters and I had provided) to feed those coming to my house, and left some for the Stanton group as best we could (quantities were hard to split up evenly, since crockpots and platters of food had not been divided up for this turn of events, but we did try).

As it turned out, we enjoyed an amazing time of fellowship together at my house. Those of us there will never forget that night of fellowship. We held hands and prayed together for us and for the Stanton group, ate together, and sang some of my dad's favorite songs (and many more) for the next three or four hours until our voices were hoarse. My dad would have loved singing tenor or bass with us. It was an amazing time of unity and encouragement, despite Satan's attempt to crash the funeral.

Below is a rough copy of the sermon I preached at my dad's funeral. This is not word-for-word, since I don't read my notes when speaking in public. As far as I know, no one made a recording, so this is the best I have:

The heart of a Berean 
When I picture my dad at the Stanton house where I grew up, one of my main memories is of him sitting in his study. I have an office. Dad had a study, and that’s what he used it for. He had a dark walnut desk with a glass top on it, and under that glass top I think there were some family photos and Bible references. 
One thing I appreciate about him now, that I didn’t then, was the fact that he openly and frequently studied the Bible. I probably didn’t do that as visibly as I should have while my kids were younger--I’d study, but I’d stay up late, or get up early, or in more recent years, do my Bible reading on my phone. So my kids don’t always see me studying. But I frequently saw Dad crack open The Book and delve into it in depth. That was a great example to have as a young man. He taught me a love for digging into the Word to find out what it really means. 
Dad loved to mine nuggets of truth from the scriptures in that study--whether he was reading up on first century church history, or doing a topical study with his big Young’s Concordance, or preparing for a sermon, or some other study he was interested in. That made an impression on me. He had a love for learning. 
I’m grateful that Mom and Dad both taught me to look to the scriptures as my only authority for what I believe. That mindset of “what does the Bible say on that?” was all throughout conversations about the scriptures when I was a kid. 
I remember conversations on the ride home from church, or with people on the phone, or with people who had the misfortune to knock on our door. Of all the doors in the neighborhood, in our home, the Bible was actually read and studied. Mom and Dad gave me, through their example of personal Bible study, a deep respect for the Word, and a real, honest thirst for Biblical truth. 
The reverence for studying the Word in our home when I was a kid, reminds me now of the Bereans in Acts chapter 17. Luke wrote that they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” 
Dad, I know, did a lot of topical studies, read a lot of history, and studied to figure out the meanings of passages--sometimes obscure ones. I remember one study he shared at church was on the fact that Jesus was the “only begotten” Son of God, and he had really come up with some interesting insights into what that meant. Another one was a study of Jesus being the Word made flesh, and the fact that the Greek word for “word” is logos, where we get our word logic. 
I also remember him studying Revelation from time to time. He’s not one that spent tons of time doing that, but I think he figured if God put it in there, he must have wanted us to read it. So he did, and he tried to figure out what a lot of those symbols mean. I’m not sure if he ever figured out the correct meaning for the white horse, or the beast, or some of the other symbols, but he was a searcher, and I know he wanted to understand the truths in the Bible more accurately. 
One verse that I know Dad spent a lot of time studying--and me too, later in life--was 1 John 1:7 - “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 
I want to share one little nugget from that one little verse that’s very meaningful to me. This verse and various ideas about its meaning were very influential in my years growing up with Dad, and learning to study the scriptures. 
Have you ever had a moment when you're studying the Bible and something unexpected jumps out at you that you never saw before? I've never found actual hidden treasure, but I imagine that feeling is about how I felt when I discovered this clue in John’s writing that opened up my understanding of this passage for me. In fact, this was one of the principles of interpretation I learned from Dad--that the Bible usually does a pretty good job of interpreting itself, if we give it a chance. 
So when I found this nugget in 1 John 1:7, I remember thinking, “I don't know how I missed this.” Here John gave us clue after clue to his real meaning. One of those clues is just a few verses later. But if you read through all of John’s writings in one sitting, you’ll see clues scattered throughout his gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John. 
Clues about what, though? One of the things Dad taught me is that words mean things. Words and the meaning of words are how we understand each other. He said one of the best things you can do to understand the English language is to take class in Latin. I never did that, but I did take two years of Spanish and two years of French--both Latin-based languages. 
So I learned to dig around about the meaning of words to understand a thought properly in the Bible. And in 1 John 1:7, the nugget I found is the meaning of the word “light” when John says “Walk in the light,” and we’ll have fellowship with one another. Fellowship is another whole topic altogether, but what does it mean to walk in the light? 
The answer, I found, is right there in Chapter 2:10. John actually defines exactly what he means by the word “light” right there. He doesn’t leave it up to our imagination, or hint at it. He comes right out and says that He who loves his brother walks (or abides or lives) in the light. 
The neat thing is that this is John himself explaining what he means in 1 John 1:7. Walking in the light is loving your brother, according to Chapter 2:10. And as if to put an exclamation point on it, he adds for good measure: But he that hates his brother is in darkness. 
Not loving our brother is walking in darkness. Loving our brother is walking in the light. In fact, there’s a song that probably every person here has sung at some point that says exactly that. Back in 1916, Laurene Highfield wrote “The Love of God,” and penned these words: 
“While his love burns true and bright, we are walking in the light…” 
Loving our brother is walking in the light. 
There are tons more verses that support this idea that that walking in the light = walking in love, and that the greatest commands we have as Christians are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what Jesus said. John simply repeats that over and over and over so we don’t forget it. Of course, as humans, we still do. Every day I have to remind myself “In all things, love.” 
The point is, Dad never stopped digging for those nuggets of truth in the Bible. Did I agree with every understanding my dad arrived at, or every sermon my dad preached? Of course not. But you know what? I don't even agree with every every sermon I've preached! In fact, I remember some pretty embarrassing sermons I’ve given, sermons that I’d cringe at now, because, hopefully, I’ve grown a little in about 31 years of being a Christian. If I did agree with every sermon I've preached in the past 31 years, that would be pretty scary, actually. It would mean I haven't grown since then. But I have. And so did Dad. 
I wasn’t born yet when Dad got to take the family on cross country flights, but we did do a lot of camping, fishing, shooting, and one hunting trip. But--if you add up all the time I spent at church with Dad since I was about 6 1/2, I probably spent more time with him there than all those other activities combined. I saw over time and with an adult perspective that Dad was not the same Christian at the end of his life that he was at the beginning of his walk with God, and that’s a good thing. I hope the same can be said at my funeral one day. Because that is what I call growth.

Jerry Harper Tribute Video

Jerry Harper Tribute Video by Kevin Harper.