I spoke with Julie Roys on July 21 about my time at Bethlehem College & Seminary and Bethlehem Baptist Church. With the recent resignations of Jason Meyer and two other pastors, many people have been wondering “what happened?” Julie has been investigating this question and has released three articles so far:
- John Piper’s Successor Latest to Resign as Allegations of Abusive Leadership Mount at Bethlehem Baptist (July 17, 2021)
- Former Bethlehem Baptist Pastors Say Church’s Culture Breeds Fear, Tolerates Abuse (August 5, 2021)
- Former Pastor: Bethlehem Baptist Dismissed Abuse Allegations Without Proper Investigation (August 17, 2021)
I am briefly quoted in the most recent article, and may be quoted more extensively in future articles as well. I am anticipating a wide variety of responses and questions: some people will be very upset with me for speaking with her; some will feel betrayed; some will be deeply grateful that I spoke with her; others will be confused; others may genuinely want to understand. This post is an effort to answer the question at the top: why did I speak with Julie Roys about my time at Bethlehem?
How long were you at Bethlehem?
I moved to Minneapolis in 2014 to attend Bethlehem College, and then stayed for four more years of seminary, where I also worked full-time as the director of admissions. We attended Bethlehem Baptist Church’s downtown campus that entire time and over the years served in nursery, Sunday school, kitchen ministry, led small groups, played on the worship team, and served on the Ethnic Harmony Task Force. I resigned from my position with the school in February 2021, and we submitted our letter requesting membership removal in June 2021, which was made official in July.
Were you planning all along to “go public” and were just waiting for the opportune time?
No. I had no plans to talk publicly about my time at Bethlehem. I never considered my story to be of particular importance, and in leaving Bethlehem I really wanted to just move on and let other people deal with the mess. I have had to try to reach a point where I could have peace even if the problems going on at Bethlehem never reached a resolution. When Julie posted a public request for sources, I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to. I was afraid (and still am!) of the reaction people would have. What will former professors, pastors, co-workers, and friends think? What will John Piper think? What will be said about me, what will happen to my reputation? I didn’t want to do it, it felt easier not to speak. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling: I don’t want to speak with her; but should I?
Did this feel like a crystal clear choice to make?
No. I went back and forth, back and forth. I was reminded of Proverbs 26:4–5:
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
So many decisions are like this, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. “Do not speak publicly about what happened, lest more harm be done to the cause of Christ. Speak publicly about what happened, lest lest more harm be done to the cause of Christ.” When should we speak, when should we stay silent? It isn’t always crystal clear, it feels like a judgment call that requires wisdom. Some people, like me, have spoken or will speak; others will remain silent. Let each be fully convinced in their own mind.
Did anything in particular influence your decision?
Yes: the concluding chapter in Wade Mullen’s book Something’s Not Right is called “What Now?” and includes a section titled “Building a Safe Community.” Here’s a link to my copy of this section [which I will pull if Wade asks me to!]:
Here are a few of the quotes that influenced me:
“Abuse is not someone else’s personal and private matter that we can ignore out of a concern for minding our own business, nor is it a matter to be only attended to by a select few in leadership positions. Abuse is a community concern. Therefore, the question must be asked of each of us: In what ways am I perpetuating an abusive culture through my silence or tacit endorsement of those who are in the wrong?” (178).
“What can we expect, beyond words, that can assure us of the sincerity of the community’s newfound resolve to end abuse? One action might surpass them all. And it is this: to open all the windows of the darkened house until every nook and cranny is covered in light so that all the damage can be seen. It is to surrender to that light, even if it means there will be no possibility of retaining or regaining legitimacy” (179).
“People often defend their silence by saying, “I don’t want to take sides.” More often than not, that is simply an excuse for not pursuing truth. Who do we usually hear that from? The leadership attempting to maintain order. And even after the truth has been established, those who chose not to pursue the truth often want to remain neutral. But there is no remaining neutral. Bystanders must take sides, either to be arrive supporters of the wounded or to actively turn their backs. There is only deception and truth. People who choose to remain neutral are giving safe passage to lies. Elie Wiesel powerfully said, ‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.’” (180).
“A safe community gives people the freedom to say, “Something’s not right.” A safe community searches for understanding until what doesn’t seem right is clearly identified, named, and described. A safe community addresses what isn’t right, even if it means putting their own reputation on the line. And if the system itself isn’t right, then a safe community will consider whether its presence is part of the problem. A safe community gives no room for the language of abuse to spread, because it keeps the lights on. In that light, truth moves freely. People do not keep their stories to themselves for fear of how others will respond” (184).
Again, while I did not consider my own story something worth sharing publicly, I do believe that I have been a bystander, a witness to things that others have experienced, and this was what tipped the scales for me in the direction of sharing publicly.
Is this your attempt to “#LeaveLoud”?
No. “#LeaveLoud” is a term coined by a group of Black Christians over at The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and on their podcast Pass the Mic (both of which I highly recommend). Tyler Burns very helpfully noted the Black origins of this phrase for when minorities leave predominantly white institutions and then tell their stories (“What is #LeaveLOUD?“). I don’t need to appropriate that language to describe what I’m doing here.
Why did you speak with Julie?
Again, I was not actively seeking someone to speak with. I didn’t respond to Julie’s open call for sources. It wasn’t until multiple people reached out to me asking “would you be willing to speak with Julie? I really think it would help,” and then when Julie herself actually reached out to me, that I decided to go ahead with it.
Why did you speak “on the record” with her?
Julie gave me the option of speaking “off the record” and I think that if I had, I could have spared myself some of the inevitable reactions. This was tempting, but the feeling that I could talk to her in secret and thus avoid the consequences of doing so felt disingenuous to me. Because of this I felt strongly that if I was going to speak to her, my name should be on the record, and to let the consequences come what may. I wish to be able to say with Paul “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (1 Cor 4:2). In a situation where there is so much hiding, so many secrets, so much prevarication, equivocation, and impression management, speaking on the record was a way of actively resisting this for my own self. Obviously not everyone has to come to the same conclusion, and others can speak off the record with completely clean consciences, but for me, this was important.
Why would you speak to a journalist about these things?
For some people, the idea that you would speak on the record with a journalist is inherently suspect. People love to hate journalists, and especially when something controversial is coming out, those with an interest in keeping things under wraps will turn to a critique of journalists as part of the overall communication strategy. Casting doubt on the integrity and truth of journalists can be a tactic to maintain uncertainty, and perhaps keep some loyal followers who might otherwise have been affected. We witnessed this on a national scale when former president Trump repeatedly attacked the press, and sought to discredit them. I feel very differently — I love the “freedom of the press” that we enjoy in this country. I believe that journalists play a vital role in holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable. Are journalists perfect? No. Do they have biases? Yes. Do sometimes the investigative reporters need to be investigated and reported on? Yes! But in general, I hold journalists in high esteem and am deeply grateful for their work.
Have you shared this information with anyone else?
Yes. Along the way I have repeatedly said “I am happy to follow up with anyone about any these things, and nothing I share needs to be confidential. Put my name on it, and send people to me if they want to follow up. I am not hiding anything.” When a classmate reached out and said, “would you be willing to share over the phone some of those things with me? If you don’t really want to share, there’s no pressure on my end.” I said “I’m happy to talk about any of it.” And we did. When pastors or professors have reached out and asked to meet, I’ve met with them. When church members ask to meet, I meet with them. I tried very hard to preserve confidentiality while many of these things were in process, because I wanted the process have its best chance at working. However, these events have broken into public, in public church Q&A’s, in public church meetings, and now in public news stories. I would have been making an exception in this case to do otherwise (“No Julie, I won’t speak with you about this”).
Isn’t it unbiblical to talk about these things in public?
When I read through the Bible, I see names. When Peter and Barnabas compromised the gospel in Galatia, Paul named names. When Demas deserted Paul, he named names. In particular, look at what John does in 3 John concerning Diotrephes:
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church”3 John 9–10
I call attention to this only to note that it is not just blatant heretics who are called out by name; it is not just adulterers or sexual abusers who are called out by name; it is not just those who extort or embezzle money who are called out by name: Diotrephes is called out for pride (“loving the preeminence”), for “malicious words,” and for pushing people out of the church. Sometimes, these kinds of situations warrant speaking in public, and the Bible gives us warrant and example for doing so.
What do you stand to gain from this?
Honestly, on one hand it feels like “absolutely nothing.” What I feel right now is a deep sense of loss, not gain. Loss of friendships, loss of relationships, loss of trust, loss of opportunities, loss of “positive references,” loss of respect. And when I resigned from my job, loss of money, loss of a clear “career track.” The three core ministries of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Desiring God, and Bethlehem College & Seminary brought in over $20,000,000 in charitable donations last year (BBC: $10.2M; DG: $7.5M; BCS: $2.5M). They have money, influence, and lawyers(!). This is to say nothing of their affiliated institutions (Treasuring Christ Together Network, Training Leaders International, Themelios journal), connections with other national evangelical organizations (T4G, The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), seminaries (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, John MacArthur / The Masters Seminary), the Christian publishing industry (Justin Taylor / Crossway Publishing), missionary agencies, and more. Getting on the wrong side of Bethlehem puts one on the wrong side of a lot of folks in the evangelical world.
I’ve also felt the loss of identity, loss of community, and at times the loss of faith, or at least the form of faith that I once had. I am still fighting to hold on to faith in Jesus, but witnessing what I have has caused deep questions in my soul. What do I gain, though, by speaking? Honestly, I feel like I gain the satisfaction of knowing that I did what I believed was right, even when — especially when — it was deeply costly to me. I can look myself in the mirror and say “I didn’t shrink back because of fear; I stood with the hurting; I told the truth.” That in itself is worth it to me.
Doesn’t speaking about the church’s problems in public dishonor the name of Christ?
Sometimes speaking publicly about the church’s problems can dishonor Christ. There is a time for love to cover a multitude of sins, to bury things in the past, and move on. But not always. In fact, I believe that sometimes not speaking does more dishonor to the name of Christ than speaking would do. I do not believe that Christ is honored by secrecy, by hiding, or by deceit. He is not honored when people hurt others in his name. And he is not honored when other people remain silent in the face of those actions. Churches and ministries are being exposed left and right these days for various forms of abuse: sexual abuse, financial abuse, and spiritual abuse. The American church’s “credibility” is already in question, and one could argue has always been in question, especially when you consider the long history of compromise and complicity with grotesque evil in this country.
I also believe that the impulse to equate “the cause of Christ” with any particular church or institution is part of the problem. When this impulse produces hesitancy to hold people accountable and tell the truth, there seems to be an inflated sense of one’s own importance. The “cause of Christ” is so much bigger than any one person, church, or institution; it has continued for millennia, and will continue for millennia more, and does not hinge upon the reputation of any one expression of it.
To the contrary, I believe that truth-telling and confession actually honors Christ. It is a demonstration of faith. It is an act of hope in the resurrection. On the last day, everything will be revealed in the piercing light of truth. There will be no secrets on that day. In my understanding of the “already/not yet” shape of history, the act of confession is an opportunity to experience the healing grace of light now before the last day when it burns with the regret of lost opportunities for repentance. Confession enacts in the present the reality of the truth of the last day.
Are you sure you made the right choice?
No. I went back and forth before speaking with Julie, and I’ve gone back and forth since. The whole thing feels yucky. I have second guessed myself, doubted myself, and have been bracing myself for the reactions. Who can know their own heart? Have my motives been perfectly pure at every point?
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.Psalm 139:23–24
I’m imperfect and I have made imperfect choices in the past, and perhaps this was another of them. All I can say is I sought the Lord, I begged for wisdom, I considered my principles, and I made the best choice I could. The results are in His hands now.
What do you hope to accomplish?
At this point, honestly, I’m not hoping to “accomplish” anything, other than telling the truth, and defending it if I have the opportunity. I’m not a member of this church anymore, and have thus given up my right to advocate for specific outcomes. Whatever those remaining at BBC and BCS will choose to do as more and more comes to light is up to them.
Am I seeking to destroy Bethlehem College & Seminary or Bethlehem Baptist Church? By no means. I love Bethlehem Baptist Church. This church was founded 150 years ago by Swedish Baptist immigrants (as “First Swedish Baptist Church”), and has a great history. I would love for that story to continue. Do I wish to see Bethlehem College & Seminary fail? I do not. There are good men and women who teach and study at BCS, and as much as I may disagree deeply with some positions of key leaders (see, for example, “Some guys need to learn how to take a punch”), I do not wish their demise. Paul did not demand the demise of Barnabas’s ministry when they parted ways in Acts 15.
However, I am deeply concerned that the operations of both institutions has been characterized by a deep lack of integrity, honesty, and transparency, the result of which has been deep harm to people that I love. I do deeply desire that both institutions would experience a refining by the power of God’s Holy Spirit that would result in honest confession, humble repentance, loving repair, and only then the start of a new chapter. I am praying that leaders with integrity will have the wisdom, courage, humility, and faith to do what is right in these days.
What do you think a healthier church might look like?
I am not the Lord, and I am not the determiner of Bethlehem’s future, but in my opinion, a healthier church and a healthier church based seminary would have a lot less of the “global reputation” and “brand” which may also mean less of the money and the power and influence that comes with that brand. My dream for those who remain at Bethlehem would probably look like a smaller church, with a renewed local focus, genuine outreach into the neighborhoods of Minneapolis, genuine face to face community, and perhaps some kind of leadership program that grows up organically out of that kind of ministry activity. Perhaps the formal College & Seminary can continue with support of Bethlehem’s network of churches (Treasuring Christ Together), but the messy complications and conflicts of interest created by having a formal accredited institution “under the authority of the elders” has exposed weaknesses that reached a breaking point this year.
Whether that’s where God takes Bethlehem from here remains to be seen and is up to others to decide. Whatever the case, my prayer is that God will grant everyone there faith to embrace an eternal perspective, to embrace the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God, to embrace the truth that “He must increase! I must decrease,” and to believe that loss can actually be the truest gain.
Please pray for Bethlehem.