Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Two Rivers in the dumpster

This Sunday May 4th, Two Rivers Baptist Church will vote on whether to follow pastor Jerry Sutton’s lead and purge itself of the 71 members who sued the church for access to financial records. (Be sure to look at the photo so you’ll know what rabble-rousers and renegades actually look like.)

Two Rivers is the home church for many of the people who work at Southern Baptist headquarters in Nashville. This means that Jerry Sutton is the pastor to people who do the day-to-day decision-making of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Spend a little time on the site and you’ll get some idea of why this is a “denomination in decline” and why it is so rife with problems.

Here’s what those 71 church-members wanted: Accountability and transparency. Imagine that.

Last week, pastor Sutton sent out a letter to the flock, urging that the behavior of these 71 truth-seekers was “not consistent with the Word of God” and that they must apologize for their actions in order to remain in the fold.

This is the sort of example set by the pastor who shepherds the decision-makers of this denomination. See the problem?

Back when all this got started, Two Rivers’ executive pastor Scott Hutchings responded by accusing these people of “causing division” within the church body.

“There has to be submission and authority,” he insisted.

So the battle lines were drawn: Submission & authority vs. Accountability & transparency.

I know which side I’m pulling for.

The same battle lines are at the root of the Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse scandal. And I’ve seen up-close what the lack of accountability and transparency does in that arena. It’s pretty ugly.

Meanwhile, back at Two Rivers, the renegades aren’t apologizing. They’re busy sifting through thousands of financial records that were recently found in a dumpster behind the church. The renegades believe they’re records that church leaders never wanted the members to see.

“Denomination in decline”? Maybe it’s already in the dumpster.
Update: The vote was reported as 663 to 337 in favor of ousting them, but that was 4 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed under the church's by-laws. So the renegades were NOT ousted.
Additional update: Two Rivers re-voted on May 11 and ousted the "renegades." In essence, the church decided not to count the votes of the "renegade" members themselves, and by excluding their votes, the balance was tipped in favor of ousting them. Read the Nashville Scene's scathing parody: "Two Rivers Baptist to advise Zimbabwe regime."


Anonymous said...

The TRBC leaders accuse the sheep of disobeying God's holy Word, and then demand full and blind submission to their authority. Truth is, it's the TRBC leaders who are not submitting to the authority of Christ. If they were, they would gladly, willingly, and openly welcome accountability and transparency. They must have a lot to hide.

RM said...


Its kind of disappointing to see you siding with the group at Two Rivers. This is a small group (71 or so) who basically haven't gotten their way and are disrupting the entire church. They say they want transparency and accountability but in essence what they want is for them to control things. Two Rivers is a church that has committees to make decisions--not a group of people who are unhappy about everything.

At least things will be much more clear after this Sunday night when the vote is taken.

Personally I would not presume to compare this ridiculous church feud with the seriousness of child molestation.

gmommy said...

As you know, BBC said the very same thing ( as RM is saying)about the thousands who were outraged by Steve Gaines' handling of the staff sexual predator.

Before and after it was made public that SG had declared the molesting of a child "under the blood" after the minister's confession of this fact ...there were many questions about finances and unscriptural church decisions and actions.
Transparency and accountability were what the "group disrupting the church" at BBC asked for. They never got it.
Thousands left and no one in leadership cared.
I hope and pray this ruff looking group of senior citizens and church members perservere.

So called Biblical mercy, grace, and forgiveness is directed towards the ones who do wrong. Sin is called a mistake not of the heart...whatever that means!
The small group that try and take a stand are made to be the bad about deflection.

The victims in these churches and the coruption by the leadership are lost in the deflections and cover ups.

Anonymous said...

How can the church object--isn't the church bound by law to make their records available?

Having come out of an abusive church situation, I get tired of leaders citing "causing divison" and "gossip" as problems when really the issue is that problems are being covered up and leaders do not want to be held accountable. If there weren't anything inappropriate to hide, the leaders wouldn't have any problem with showing the financial records.

Anonymous said...

One good thing that has come from this mess. The TRBC staff supposedly no longer uses their church credit card for personal use.

Also, I thought it was improper for a staff member to pay for restaurant meals for "potential church members". The tithe money given to the church by long time members should not be used to pay for "potential church members" to eat at restaurants. I have never heard of such a thing.

Jeri said...

71 people doesn't seem to be a very small group to me. Amazing that the SBC resorts to these bully tactics. After all, the money the church spends comes from the offerings of the people. They DO have a right to know how it is spent. Congregational church government is all about every member of the congregation having a voice.

It will be interesting to learn what information these 71 people sift out of those discarded records.

Christa Brown said...

RM: Too many people seem to think the problem of clergy child molestation is about only the perpetrators. But those of us who have been down this road know that the very reason why the problem is so serious is because Southern Baptists lack effective systems for oversight and accountability and because the "authority" of the pastor too often usurps concern for the safety and well-being of kids and congregants.

As the comments here reflect, we see the same twisted biblical reasoning when people try to bring forward reports of clergy sex abuse. All too often, the victims are the ones who are labeled "divisive" and accused of "hurting the body of Christ." Meanwhile, the predatory pastors remain in their pulpits along with those who cover-up for them.

Two Rivers is a church that could conceivably exercise enormous influence in persuading Southern Baptist leaders to institute effective oversight mechanisms to combat clergy sex abuse... if only it would choose to do so. I will pray that Two Rivers may have the wisdom and courage to learn from this so as to work for transparency within the denomination on other issues even more critical than financial accountability - such as transparency with respect to clergy sex abuse allegations.

According to the site, 600 people in the church signed a petition. 71 people joined in the lawsuit. Whatever the result of the vote on Sunday, it seems sad to me that anyone would characterize the serious concerns of so many fellow-congregants as being "ridiculous."

And I do think people should wonder why church financial records were thrown in the dumpster at the very point in time when this group of people were seeking access to the records.

RM said...

I still don't believe there is any valid connection between the TRBC deal and child molestation. This group of malcontents fail to mention that the judge has stated that there is no sign of financial mismanagement.

Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that a church is to be run by congrgational rule. It does establish the leadership of elders and also the fact that a church is a theocracy (meaning that it is run by God and we should be seeking His will in all matters for the church).

I'm sure your group will pounce on this but that's fine. Look where your desires for congregational rule has gotten you. Half of our church members aren't even saved so its strange we want them voting on everything in the church.

Anonymous said...


I would have wholeheartedly agreed with your comments a few years ago...until I was pursued sexually by a church staff member and I saw how poorly, and unbiblically it was resolved.And over time it became apparent things were rarely, if ever dealt with Biblically-instead the pastor or his son blew up in anger, and people were kicked out and threatened. This was all done in secrecy, and some of those victimized were intimidated enough to keep it secret themselves, at least for a time.

Unchecked power is too dangerous for most, if not all, leaders to handle. I will never again go to a church led by a dictatorship, no matter how benevolent he may be.

I don't take pleasure in saying this, but I suspect 5 or 10 years down the road you will be older, wiser and and humbled. There are no words to describe how much what I experienced has changed me--it is only by God's grace that I am still a believer.

Christa Brown said...

Actually, in the article I saw, the judge simply said that the court had no jurisdiction to interfere with the governance of the church. Contrary to what RM says, I have NOT seen any anything in which the judge said there is no sign of financial mismanagement. If indeed the judge said something like that, which I doubt, then I would like to see some documentation or article reporting it.

Anonymous said...

“There has to be submission and authority,” he insisted."

Sounds like another pastor who either does not know the whole counsel of NT scripture or who does and twists it for his own personal gain. Somehow he gets 'authority' out of 'servant' when he reads the bible. Satan must be blinding them.

ANY MEMBER who wants to see records should get them pronto. It is NOT the pastors's church or even just the elders church. It belongs to Jesus Christ and there is NO high priest inbetween. Baptists used to believe that. Not anymore.

Yes yes, this teaching is everywhere in the SBC but then it is the end times and they are just being Nicolations we are warned about in Rev. The ones God hates. They only think of themselves, their power and authority. They are puffed up and their only power resides in an earthly title and money because they have NO power of the Holy Spirit.

They are false teachers and wolves who have made a career as a professional Christian in a caste system with members being on the low end of the food chain who must look up to them. Even though the NT is clear there is NO clergy/laity distinction. Most people do not know that anymore and have opted for the structure of the Cahtolic church with their Bishops, cArdinals and Popes. We jsut call them different names like Assoc Pastor, Jr. Pastor, etc.

They live high on the hog on OPM and then throw fits when accountability is requested.

They are NOTHING like Jesus Christ. They are NOT like Paul who made tents so as not to be a burden. But they are excellent Pharisees who love the best seats and pray aloud for all to see. They love religion because it pays well with no accountability. And ignorant people will follow them and fawn over them! People who make idols of pastors.

Anyone who sits under their preaching best get their bibles out and find out what it really looks like to be saved. Start at Matthew 7. Then go back to Matt 5 and read the description of a true follower of Christ.

Do NOT allow these men to teach you scripture. They are NOT qualified.


gmommy said...

Well said Maureen!

Anonymous said...


Could you please specifically state whether the church at which you were mistreated was TRBC or not? They way your post is phrased implies that it was.

Anonymous said...

I just found this site. As a psychologist working with priests and religious of the catholic church for 25 years, I didn't have much sense of what was going on in other denominations. But you've done an excellent job Crista in framing the issues of sexual and financial abuse and their respective coverups in the Baptist church.

I'm glad to see this issue of appealing to submission to authority brought up...and the reactions to it by the 71 personae non grata.

Jesus was a great tweaker of authoritarian noses and at his mock 'trials' before the Sanhedrin...Pilate...and Herod he refused to submit to their jurisdiction so they could try him lawfully instead of having to murder him...He never entered a plea even after Pilate offered specifically to protect him if he would enter Roman jurisdiction.

There is obvious discretion in Jesus' example of when not to submit to authority especially when authority wants to hide evildoing under a mask of trying to get him lawfully to trial on bogus charges.

One of the problems with childhood sexual abuse is that the victims did submit to authority out of fear or their detriment. Happily...we are teaching children today to say no to adult authorities who try and touch them inappropriately.

It's necessary to expose...defrock...suspend...laicize...etc.
ordained...elected...and consecrated people. But I think it is more important to have genuine knowledge of who we elect and ordain to be our ministers and those of our children.

The formation people in seminaries have escaped scrutiny and responsibility for passing these people on without comment or concern.

Unfortunately, the catholic church's welcome policies after the Boston scandal are reactive rather than preventive. A child has to be abused before a priest or a sister is removed from ministry.

While all of the corrective litigation and publicity about clergy sexual abuse goes on...we also need to evaluate candidates for clerical and religious life very carefully...and it is quite possible to do.

Glad to be here.


Anonymous said...

It's necessary to expose...defrock...suspend...laicize...etc.
ordained...elected...and consecrated people.

Surely you meant to say that it's corrupt people who should be attacked, not everyone who goes to church. I haven't seen that distinction clearly made yet.

Making vague blanket statements about 'the ones God hates' on a thread about TRBC could very easily be considered offensive by TRBC members.

If you have specific allegations against the church, please say so in order that they can be either proved or disproved. The only connection between TRBC and CSA is this blog, and that is the truth. Unless you have embarked on a 'scorched earth' campaign, I'd expect that to be made very clear to avoid further confusion.

Anonymous said...

Surely you meant to say that it's corrupt people who should be attacked, not everyone who goes to church. I haven't seen that distinction clearly made yet.

any member who supports a corrupt pastor or leaders is also corrupt even if out of ignorance. You are ALLOWING it. You are allowing a false teaching of 'authority' of pastors to cloud your judgement of keeping the Bride pure. If there is nothing going on, then they can open the books, can't they.


Anonymous said...


The response to your statement is no, of course. It's never right to persecute innocent people. Should we shut the churches down so that perps won't have a place to hide? And is this website about protecting children or money?

Just because one pastor is known to have committed a crime, is it right to condemn a multitude of saints? That used to be called a witch hunt.

I'm still waiting for the PhD's response, too. How should we screen our clergy? Personality profiles? DNA testing? Divination? Cyrstal balls? Other psychological babble?

I see no answers, only confusion. What would you have us do, other than condemn every pastor in America?

But your preference is obvious...

gmommy said...

Obviously you haven't bothered to read the MANY suggestions offered which answer your question "what would you have us do"....

I think YOUR preference is the only one truly obvious to the readers here.

Anonymous said...

Dos Rios,

My situation was not at TRBC,but my point is that unchecked power, wherever it is, be it a Baptist, nondenominational, or mainstream church is a dangerous thing.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is saying that innocent people should be persecuted. Anonymous makes the point well. People who support transferring them for example to a new parish...are aiding and abetting evil. The basis of nearly every suit against the catholic church is that the bishop knew what was happening and simply moved the offenders to new 'playgrounds'. Is the bishop guilty...even though he may have molested no bet.

Is the bishop being punished by having to pay out 660 million dollars in reparations to victims. As one archdiocese did last year. No he isn''s not his money...his retirement package from the church remains untouched and intact.

Dos Rios...I won't attempt to deal with your extreme rhetoric "scorched earth" "attack" "the ones God hates" psychological "babble".
But I would suggest that you come up with some constructive points that help people think instead of just exercising some kind of veto power that attempts to discredit rather than to illuminate.

When we put someone in power by ordaining them or electing them...we are taking our best guess that they are right for the job. But our best guess has to be formed by solid information about the person.

My point about evaluating people for the catholic priesthood is that the seminarians are underevaluated. If you are a pious individual and talk a lot of (to borrow Dos Rios's terminology) theology will be ordained in the catholic church.

You will be ordained even if you handle stress by suicide attempts, even if you cannot carry on an adult conversation, even if your whole emotional and social life revolves around children and youths. If you are pious (which is not equal to holy)you will be ordained.

There are ways to determine whether a person has sufficient maturity (which is a requirement of canon law for ordination)and those methods are teachable and learnable . But they are not crystal ball techniques nor psychobabble. The person will tell you himself or herself about the different levels of maturity on different psychological and social dimensions necessary for effective living. But your language has to be tactful as you interact with them.

Good parents who listen well to their children do this all the time. It's not rocket science and its not babble. But it is a skill and like any skill it can be learned.

But it is not something to be taught in a forum...and not something to be taught to people until they learn how to use language effectively as a first step.

Some of the finest people I've met are ministers, priests and sisters. They know how to do ministry. We need to study them as role models and help others to do so as well.

gmommy said...

Thanks for finding this blog! Your insightful posts are much appreciated!

Anonymous said...


Thanks. I'm appreciating what I'm finding here as well. Especially the faithful who have refused to back down in the face of authority.

After all...molested children obeyed abusive authority. And we're teaching them not to obey 'invitations' from such people any more.

When I go through everyone else I'm asked at several points if I've taken any thing from a stranger. My response is "When I was a mother told me never to take anything from a stranger...and I never have." It usually provides a light moment in the tedious lines at airports.

Thanks again.


Anonymous said...

Christa Brown, i can't begin to tell you how much i appreciate what you are doing.

Psalm 7:10-12

10 My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.

11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.

Anonymous said...

he's gone. he left last month, as many people probably know.

Lord, heal us now. please heal the people that this man hurt badly.

and have mercy on the church, as a majority was present to make rash oaths to feed the man's ego and retiring legacy. but, he's gone now. so, have mercy and help them heal.

it's been a hard fight, my Lord, for a long, long time. but thank You, Lord, for fighting for me when i could not fight, and speaking to me words of instruction when i did not know what to do. others cried to you also, and you answered prayer.

but i must speak for me, especially. i know that i indeed was not alone, i was not alone, You heard my cries, You heard every one of them and You took up my cause.

oh, my God, how You took up for me!
when i really think on it, in my heart i get breathless, there's so much love that You show toward me. it makes me so quiet, it makes everything get so quiet and calm.

i know You so much more now than ever before. You are glorious in Your ways! i have to cover my face and stand in awe, i have to lie down before You and cover my head, in awe of what You have done for me. and You want me to praise You for this thing that You have done for - me.

these are new waters of praise. should i shout it? i don't know. should i whisper it?

Lord, i don't know what to do with it.

i will just keep quietly whispering it:
The Holy God of Heaven heard me and tore through the heavens and came down.

The Holy God of Heaven heard me, He tore through the heavens, and He came down.

how can i handle the knowledge that You care for me this much? the Master of Heaven loves me, i am cherished by Him and i absolutely - do - not - understand it.

my Lord, my God, You are my strength. the strength of my life, and of - whom - shall - i - be - afraid.

when the wicked came upon me to eat up all my flesh, he stumbled and he fell. by the hand of the Living God, he fell in the trap that he laid for another.

thank you Lord that You did not leave me. thank You Lord that You will never forsake me.

and thank You Lord that You answer prayer in Your timing. i must learn Your timing, that You bring things to light in the fullness of Your timing. is this what happened? i still don't understand, and i need Your help to heal, but i see You and i am learning Your ways.

help us to heal now. help me to heal from what happened, from what i experienced when i could not cover my ears or close my eyes. You kept them open for a reason.

i will pray for him, again. Do not let him go too far Lord, before bringing him to Your will. bring to him remembrance of what he has done. remembrance, remorse, repentance, restitution, reconciliation, regenerate his soul, his mind, his body, his spirit. begin in him anew. let these things be done in his life.

may Your glory finally rest upon his head as You accomplish these things in his life. and Lord don't let arrogant men and silly women deceive him and tell him he's healed and restored, if You say he is not. keep liars and troublemakers and flatterers away from him. put the real fear of the Lord in him, and in any one who would try to lead him further astray. narrow his path, do not let him walk with sinners.

follow this man where he travels, don't let him seek after evil for long, and don't let him dismiss the hurt that he's laid upon others as if it's not worthy of remorse and restitution.

heal his mind and his heart. bring humility to him, to heal him. that's my prayer for him, that he is healed. and i will trust that prayer with You.

Bless the name of the Lord, forever and ever, amen. THE LORD IS GOOD. THE LORD IS COMING. THE LORD IS WITH US NOW.