October 12, 2006

  

Dear Deacon of Bellevue Baptist Church,

 As a member of Bellevue Baptist Church since 1995, I am distressed over what is happening to our church family.  Something is definitely wrong with the tactics and procedures that are being used by our new pastor to take full control of the church and change the church.  What was wrong with Bellevue that needed to be changed?  Pastor Gaines is losing respect from a lot of people at Bellevue and it doesn’t seem to matter.  I appeal to you, a deacon and representative of the congregation, to make an honest investigation of the allegations and legitimate concerns that have been raised by other reputable, god-fearing men within the church.  I implore you to search your conscience, abide by your Christian convictions, and have the courage to hold those in leadership accountable for any wrongdoing, if that be the case, in an effort to restore peace and goodwill in the house of the Lord.

 I am a single lady, age 63, one whom the leaders of the church may not be concerned with whether I stay or leave the Bellevue family.  I do not hold a significant position in the church and am but a small voice in the crowd.  My daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren are also members and very active within the church.  My family is quite disturbed by the lack of sensitivity and diplomacy shown by the new pastor and his select associates in dealing with legitimate concerns expressed by long-standing and reputable church members.  Evidently, we are not alone as we’re aware of several families who have left the church and know of several others that are considering that option.  We prefer to stay at Bellevue and be supportive in getting the problems resolved with Pastor Steve Gaines, Associate Pastor Mark Dougharty, and Director of Deacons Chuck Taylor until such time as it seems hopeless and there is a need to “abandon ship”.  We are waiting for trust to be restored.

In the meantime, it is becoming more difficult to sit and listen to Pastor Gaine’s sermons and see people giving him standing ovations.  I believe that a high percentage of the congregation does not have complete information, but would like to believe that Pastor Gaines is honest and trustworthy.  If one did not know about the numerous activities going on behind the scenes, the pastor’s sermons would be great.  Under the circumstances, the pastor’s sermons appear to be self-serving, indicating that he may be arrogant, obstinate and intimidating.

I agree with Mark Sharpe, Josh Manning, Riad (Ray) Saba, Jesse McClerkin, and David Bishop, among others, that there are legitimate and important concerns of church members that need to be aired openly within the church.  I especially liked the reference that Deacon David Bishop made in his sincere letter of September 27 to the pastor.  He noted that the truth could only be revealed with both a prosecution and defense presentation.  That is what we need --- an open presentation and discussion to get to the truth --- not a one-sided, pre-programmed presentation such as was provided on Sunday evening of September 24, 2006. 

Since these matters have not been resolved privately with the leadership, I suggest that an open hearing be held on an evening when it is not combined with the worship service.  There may need to be several meetings on different topics.  I suggest that the entire congregation have the right to be present, just as would be the case in a public trial, in order to have questions brought forth and answered on the spot, without a pre-planned and staged format.  That way, one could observe body language and see if answers were consistent and make sense.  Perhaps there could be a committee of twelve deacons selected who would make a final determination of who is telling the truth after reviewing the evidence.  I suggest that the twelve deacons be selected in an unbiased manner, rather than hand picked by the pastor.  Then, after careful and thoughtful determination, those twelve deacons would produce a report and follow through with any disciplinary action and private consultation with the person who is causing this discord.  If the pastor is found guilty of misconduct and cannot accept responsibility for his own transgressions, then our church has a serious situation that should be dealt with by a dismissal committee, much like the duties held by the research committee earlier.  Does all of this seem reasonable and orderly?

At the end of the presentation on September 24, it was announced that we should contact the deacons if we had further questions.  What exactly is the position of the deacons?  Is it true that the deacons do not have any position of authority, but only that of servant leaders?  Do the deacons truly represent the rest of the congregation, especially if they are only given half-truths from the church’s leadership?  If not, why was it suggested that we contact the deacons with our concerns?  Does it really matter if a member has serious concerns, such as those expressed by Mark Sharpe and others, or does the Pastor have the sole right to deny a hearing before the deacons and the congregation, and the sole discretion to dismiss a deacon without approval from the congregation?  It looks as though any questioning or rebuke from a church member will result in that member being shown the door.  Why does one man have so much power?  Do we have a first amendment right to free speech only outside the church walls?

There are several issues that I am concerned about, but the main one involves the allegations of financial impropriety.  After the Sunday evening service and presentation on September 24, I spoke directly with Chip Freeman, the Chief Financial Officer, regarding the use of credit cards by church officials.  Steve Gaines stated that evening that he has never utilized the church credit card for personal use.  However, due to allegations that were discussed, it may be that Dr. Gaines has taken advantage of using the church credit card for pleasure outings and such, thinking it was considered church business if another church member was present at the outing.  That could benefit Dr. Gaines by not having to spend his own money and also have additional tax savings.  I questioned Chip Freeman on whether it was true or not that there was a credit card bill in excess of $400.00 for six people to enjoy dinner at Ruth Chris Steak House that included Pastor Gaines and his wife, Jamie Parker and his wife, and the Streets.  Mr. Freeman seemed evasive about that incident, admitting that it had taken place, but that it “may have been for recruiting” purposes.  He did not know for sure, yet just moments before, he and Pastor Gaines had told the congregation that Mr. Freeman had reviewed all the receipts.  Chip Freeman also stated that a membership at Colonial Country Club had previously been purchased by the church for Pastor Gaines, but had recently been cancelled due to objections from others within the church.  This all appears to be half-truths, manipulation of the congregation, and the inability to be wise stewards of God’s money.  Is this a good example for the rest of the congregation, or is it acceptable as long as others do not know about it?   

With regard to the salaries paid to the pastor and all top staff members, I personally feel that they should be disclosed to the congregation in the annual budget outline, indicating individual salaries for the top management/leadership positions.  In seeking the truth, I would like to know whether or not Pastor Gaines salary was increased substantially over the amount that was paid to our previous pastor, Dr. Adrian Rogers.  The church should not be a profit-making corporation with a C.E.O. in charge, entitled to a huge salary based upon a percentage of the church budget.  Until such time that this disclosure is made to the congregation and deemed reasonable, I am inclined to withhold further tithes to the church, utilizing it elsewhere for other charities that are in need.

I realize this will not be very noticeable in such a large pool of money, but it is a matter of personal conviction.

During recent conversations that I had with a couple of fellow church members, one of which is an usher, and one a Bible fellowship leader, it was suggested that we must have trust in our leaders and shouldn’t be concerned with the amount of their salaries.  Personally, I do not believe in blind trust for another human being, even though that person may be in a position that should warrant trust.  I am thinking about the scandals we have learned about priests, physicians, teachers, Boy Scout leaders, and senators who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct.  I am thinking about other well-known Christian leaders in our country, such as Jim Baker, who took advantage of the stream of money flowing in from donations for the church and became corrupt with too much greed and power.  I am also thinking of various religious cult leaders who have exercised too much control over their followers and became corrupt.  There needs to be some type of “checks and balances” just as our forefathers planned for our government.  We are always dealing with human nature, which can be susceptible to the sins of greed, pride, lying, stealing, and personal advantage.  Our religious leaders are human, and therefore not infallible!

As you are most likely aware, politicians running for public office must disclose their earnings via tax returns due to having positions of public trust and utilizing public tax money.  The salary for the President of the United States is public information.  Why would disclosure of salaries seem to be unacceptable for persons applying for high positions of trust within the church?  It had been my understanding that the upper management staff and the Finance Committee were knowledgeable about such matters as they established the church budget and gave their approval for the amount of salaries.  Now, due to allegations that have been made, it is my concern that the pastor, or an individual associate of the pastor, has unspecified control over the amount of salaries after the Finance Committee approves an overall, undesignated amount for each budget area of the church.  Is that true?  How does the Finance Committee decide the total amount that is needed for salaries if it is not known (and approved) in advance?  Who is authorized to write the checks, and who is “keeping the books”? 

It is also my understanding that the main executive staff members are appointed by the pastor, so they can be of one accord, whatever that may be.  As long as members of the executive staff are well compensated financially, they would have a good thing going and want to support the pastor with his personal agenda.  We lowly sheep of the congregation are expected to mind our own business, as Pastor Gaines expressed this past Sunday evening in his sermon, and also keep our tithes forthcoming.  It is obvious that he is trying to squelch any discussion about this matter as he herds his sheep into a position of submission and meekness.

Another concern of mine also involves financial matters and honesty.  At the Sunday evening service on September 24, as Pastor Gaines was working the crowd, he stated that he does not preach on Wednesday evenings because he keeps that time open for his family obligation, to attend his children’s sports activities and such.  I do not have a problem with his not preaching on Wednesday since it gives other ministers an opportunity to preach.  However, I do have a problem with the pastor not telling the truth.  From advertising evidence, it appears that Steve Gaines has been spending time, including Wednesdays, in other churches for revivals.  That may appear to be a good thing --- spreading the Word of God, but what is evident is the fact that he evaded the question and lied.  He did not mention going to revivals, perhaps because it could have raised yet other questions regarding his motives.  Is he doing that for extra compensation?  What happened to holding Wednesdays open in order to spend time with his family?

This past Sunday evening, October 9, the Pastor stated that he was “pooped” from all of his responsibilities and that he needed to hire another associate pastor.  Perhaps Pastor Gaines is spreading himself too thin by traveling to several other churches for their revivals, rather than taking care of business at Bellevue.  Dr. Adrian Rogers, a much older man, seemed to be able to handle his responsibilities as pastor with one associate pastor, and, from what I understand --- approximately half the salary that Dr. Gaines is making.  We really don’t know the truth of this matter since it is secretive and not confirmed.  Could it be that Dr. Gaines is so “pooped” because of the extra time and energy it takes to meet with his associates to compare notes and prepare defensive sermons to ward off “evil adversaries” that dare to question his motives and actions?

Due to the one-sided messages presented by Pastor Gaines and his top aides, most members of the church are under the impression that there are just a few men who are causing trouble who cannot accept the changes being made by the new pastor --- such as updated, modern music.  The music situation is incidental compared with some of the other issues, such as obvious trespassing for an intimidating confrontation.  With regard to the new music format, at first I, along with several others, thought it was too loud and lasted too long --- more like a rock concert.  It was slightly irritating and distracted one from feeling the true spirit and being deeply touched during worship.  It is not due to my age, as my teen-age granddaughters expressed something similar.  I did not appreciate the way Jamie Parker, the music director, criticized and mocked the congregation for not participating in his boisterous, charismatic singing.  I believe that each individual should be allowed to worship in his/her own way, whether it is singing loud, with clapping and/or raising their hands, or a more subdued meditation and thoughtfulness as they experience the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps the singing and music program have been toned down a bit after all of the complaints.

Like the rest of the congregation, I joined in giving Dr. Gaines and his family a warm welcome to Bellevue.  It is a misnomer to say that the congregation “voted” for Dr. Gaines.  There was no alternate choice presented to us.  We placed our trust in the search committee and were pleased to approve of their decision and move forward with a new pastor.  We had no prior knowledge of this man, other than hearing his sermons as a guest preacher, or any others that would be considered prior to being asked to give our approval.  It was kept a big secret until the time for the congregation to meet Dr. Gaines and “vote”.  What other option did we have?  It is evident that we have no control, but are just like sheep, staying together in a group and following the one in front of us.  We desperately want to believe that we have a godly, trustworthy shepherd to guide us.  Time will tell if this is true or not.

Bellevue Baptist Church has had a wonderful reputation, thanks to all previous pastors of high integrity, and it has truly been a marvelous, positive place where one could receive spiritual growth and have a “family of friends”.  It is a shame that possible character problems with the leadership may blight Bellevue Baptist Church.  It is time to get this issue in the open and resolved so there may be healing.

Currently, it appears that there is too much power being placed in such few hands, with no accountability and blatant intimidation of those in lower ranks.  I will continue to pray that this matter be resolved, as others in the church are doing, but also want to extend moral support for the men of Bellevue who will deal directly with these issues.  

Respectfully

Carol Pemberton