Monday, July 31, 2006

"Student" Describes Highlands Study Center

Highlands Study Center RC Sproul Jr
We've spoken before about RC Sproul Jr's Highlands Study Center and the fact there is no identifiable functional distinction between the Highlands Study Center and Saint Peter Presbyterian Church. While there is a Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, there is no "study center" of any kind.

When a "student" comes to "study" at the Highlands Study Center all they're doing is visiting Saint Peter Presbyterian Church. There is no "Study Center" and there are no identifiable "students" that "Study" any identifiable curriculum. While there have been numerous testimonies from various "students" of the consumption of substantial quantities of booze and cigars, as far as we can determine that doesn't qualify as "study." Yet in spite of what is a very obvious sham, RC Sproul Jr has managed to turn his so-called "Study Center" into a six-figure fund-raising boondoggle. This only goes to show how gullible some Christians can be.

Now a recent Highlands Study Center graduate Jeremy Bunch confirms all that, and more:
To the right is a link to the Highlands Study Center of Bristol, Virginia. The Highlands Study Center is a ministry of St. Peter Presbyterian Church. I attended HSC, and found that the center of the Center is difficult to pinpoint. Some say it is RC Jr's basement. Others say it is Laurence Windham's office, the local coffee shop. Some say it is the conversation filled thinktank in the back of the cigar shop next to Pastor Windham's office.

My experience convinced me that the HSC was a rather ethereal sort of entity. There are no schoolrooms, no set of curricula. If there is a line between the church of St. Peter and the HSC, that line seems awfully hard to draw. My experience was that in going to the HSC was really a matter of being plunged in to the life of that church. The learning took place in conversations during car rides. It took place while drinking the post-dinner coffee at a family's house. It took place over a homebrew and a campfire. Attending the HSC is a formal way of saying that you're gonna spend sime time with the folks of St. Peter, and you're gonna learn more than you expected.

Order one of their "Basement Tapes." I dare you. You'll be addicted. And it will give you an idea of what the HSC is. It is conversation, and it is conversation like you hear on the "Tapes."

Spending time with these folks in Virginia was a pivotal point in my life, shaping me in a direction and worldview that has opened my eyes to a life of joy and beauty that I previously had not fully experienced.

I want to share more on my experience there, and of the friendships that I have made there, but I will save that for later. For now, please visit their website, read some fine articles, and order some conversation that is fitting to listen to with a cigar in one hand and a glass of port in the other.
In some respects Jeremy has done a better job of describing the Highlands Study Center than we have. We've just rather bluntly called it "a sham." Jeremy on the other hand very graciously said that "the Center is difficult to pinpoint." Jeremy very politely calls the Highlands Study Center "a rather ethereal sort of entity," which is to say "intangible or relating to ether." In other words the Highlands Study Center is like a bag of gas.

So Jeremy, we're all a bit confused. Don't you have any buds back home in Boise Idaho that you can share in the "joy and beauty" of cigars and homebrew? Haven't you got a pastor to hang out with all day at the coffee shop and cigar store? Sorry, dumb question. We already know the answer to that one. Laurence Windham is the only "pastor" in America (ordained, defrocked or otherwise) whose congregation pays him to "office" all day down at the coffee shop and cigar store.

So moms and dads, send your lasses and lads off to the Highlands Study Center where, rather than studying anything, they can be plunged into the church life of car rides and homebrew and coffee shops and cigar thinktanks. Oh, and don't forget the campfires (kumbaya, kumbaya). While you're at it don't forget to join the tape of the month club. In this way you too can experience a life of joy and beauty.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Doug Wilson Pleads Ignorance

Doug Wilson CRECCREC Pastor Douglas J. Wilson has been a master of artifice for many years. Up until recently he's usually gotten away with it, but ever since he rolled out the red carpet to his buddy RC Sproul Jr it seems to have just blown up in his two-faced face. Wilson probably had no idea what he was in for, nor the number of detractors that RC Sproul Jr has earned himself. In fact Sproul may be the only pastor in the world (defrocked, ordained, or otherwise) who has almost as many detractors as Doug Wilson has (and that's no minor accomplishment).

Surprising only to those who don't know these two very well is the fact that they both glory in any attention they can garner for themselves, even if the attention comes via scandal. In fact scandal can be especially effective because it allows them to play the martyr. Yes, it's a sick and perverse way for pastors to conduct themselves, but it's quite common among sociopaths.

Doug Wilson has written multiple "A Justice Primer" articles since January, many of which have either directly or by inference dealt with the RC Sproul Jr defrocking, made into a debacle not just by RC Jr's duplicity but also the CREC's duplicity. Now the debacle has devolved into a full blown scandal thanks to Doug Wilson's duplicity. RC Sproul Jr teamed up with the CREC to "clear Sproul's name" but all that the CREC and Doug Wilson have managed to accomplish is to turn a personal embarrassment for RC Jr into a public disaster. With friends like Doug Wilson who needs enemies?

In reading Doug Wilson's blog articles people have had no trouble at all deciphering where Wilson has been talking about RC Sproul Jr, even where Wilson broaches the subject in his typical cryptospeak. Some of Doug Wilson's articles have sparked outrage and generated a flurry of questions and requests for clarification. The hottest so far, based upon the number of comments and questions posed, have been:
Arguments and Character (131 responses)
With Wooly Mittens On (217 responses)
Many Thanks And Saint Peter (146 responses)

Blog articles abound on the internet about RC Sproul Jr's defrocking, and most of them have had some reasonably civil discussion, but not Doug Wilson's blog articles. Wilson just seems to have a knack for creating a firestorm every time he brings up the name RC Sproul Jr. No doubt that has a lot to do with all the lies he's told.

Things have just been getting way too dangerous in the RC Jr/Wilson/CREC minefield. So now all of a sudden Wilson is pleading ignorance and attempting to distance himself from the CREC "not judicial in nature" Commission:
"One of those presuppositions in this whole thing appears to be that I have been a major player in the CREC commission, and so on. But I was not. In discussion, I agreed with the formation of the commission, and after they had done their work I read their report. For the most part, that's what I know. So I posted my thanks on this blog for the work these men had done, and then the organic matter struck the rotating device."
Too late Doug! You've been running your mouth for seven months and talking about every conceivable angle of the RC Sproul Jr debacle, which by running your mouth for seven months you've now turned a debacle into a scandal. Now you expect to just back away and wash your hands of it? Do you really expect anyone to believe, "For the most part, that's what I know"? You really expect anyone to believe that you weren't personally responsible for orchestrating that sham of a Commission? Come on Doug, that's one tough sell, even for a master of artifice like yourself.

It appears as though Doug Wilson took his cue, and part of the sudden change in his story line, from CREC Pastor Gene Franklin:

You are correct, I have not followed it carefully enough, but that's OK, men I trust are watching it for me!

Gene - 7/25/2006 5:44:32 PM
So at 9:39 PM the same day a light bulb goes off in Wilson's head. He takes Pastor Franklin's cue, suddenly deciding that it's time to slip out of the minefield in which he was personally responsible for planting many of the mines. This doesn't mean that he'll be able to slip out safely since he's forgotten where he placed a lot of his mines (liars need to take careful note of all their lies or they'll be easily exposed). So Doug posts:
"Now, why am I content with this approach I have taken? Because I know the men on the commission, and would trust them with my life."
The cover story that Wilson lays down goes a lot like this: Really, you can trust me. I didn't have anything to do with setting up that Commission. I didn't hand-pick those five guys. It just all came together kinda spontaneous like at RC Jr's request to, um, well not me. It was, um, Randy Booth that RC Jr called. I don't really know much of anything about it myself. I'm just trusting the CREC Commission guys that they took care of everything real good. Really, you can trust me.

Let's go back to Pastor Gene Franklin's claim that "I have not followed it carefully enough, but that's OK, men I trust are watching it for me!" Unlike Doug Wilson's newly-found ignorance, which bears striking resemblance to Pastor Franklin's ignorance, there's no reason to distrust Pastor Franklin's claim. Unlike Wilson, Franklin hasn't been blabbing about everything he knows for the past seven months and writing Justice Primer articles and defending RC Sproul Jr. Nevertheless, Pastor Franklin's position is seriously flawed, so let's quickly bring to its logical conclusion Pastor Franklin's operating assumptions.

I don't have to guess about any of this because I've personally seen numerous comments left on a number of blogs, including Wilson's blog, that prove that my concerns aren't just speculative. Let's use an example discussion that's taken place probably numerous times in various forms between two church members. The one is a member of a CREC church and the other a member of a non-CREC church (feel free to also substitute a Saint Peter member every time I say "CREC member" because the same thing applies to them as well). Non-CREC members are asking the following questions of CREC members because they presume (incorrectly so) that CREC members probably know something more than the general public. The reality however is that a lot of CREC members, probably even the majority, actually know far less than non-CREC members (the same goes for Saint Peter members), for reasons which will become apparent in the following dialogue:
"Hey Joe, have you been following the RC Sproul Jr hullaballoo?"

"Sure. As you know I'm a member of a CREC church, and this has become a big deal in the CREC. A lot of people are really interested."

"So what can you tell me Joe?"

"Well I know that the RPCGA defrocked Sproul over some BCO violations. You know, stuff like practicing paedocommunion (roll of the eyes, as in "Pretty silly, huh?"). But that stuff doesn't apply in the CREC, so the CREC Commission said that he's 'considered ordained' in the CREC."

"Well Joe I've heard other CREC members say the same thing. But that's confusing to me because that doesn't square with the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment. Are you just telling me what you've heard from someone else, or have you familiarized yourself with the case documents? Have you read all the RPCGA's documents? Have you read the CREC's Report, as well as all the other CREC Report-related documents that the CREC strangely didn't post on their web site, but that you can easily find for yourself if you just took ten seconds to Google for it?"

"Well not exactly. I know it probably wouldn't take much time to find it all and go through it, but my pastor is a friend of Doug Wilson. Well, sort of. Actually he's said that if they passed on the street they probably wouldn't even recognize one another. But they're still really close, sort of, and my pastor really trusts Wilson and Wilson vouches for the Commission, so that means that everything's cool, which is good enough for me."

"Okay, but Doug Wilson's just said on his blog, 'In discussion, I agreed with the formation of the commission, and after they had done their work I read their report. For the most part, that's what I know'. So he's also claiming that he doesn't personally know much of anything either but he agrees with everything the Commission did because as he's said, 'Now, why am I content with this approach I have taken? Because I know the men on the commission, and would trust them with my life'. I'm just not getting this form of logic which says, 'I don't really know much of anything myself personally because I haven't bothered to study the documents for myself, but I'm going to defend these guys because I trust them.' Isn't that just like assuming that they must be infallible?"

"Well, I guess I hadn't really thought of it that way. I guess I'm just trying to trust my pastor who's put his trust in Doug Wilson who's put his trust in Randy Booth. I guess it's kind of a loyalty thing. That's good enough for me, and you know me. So you should just trust what I'm now telling you too."
Wilson himself has used the illustration, "I know thus and such because I've got an uncle whose cousin has a sister who's mother told her that..." to demonstrate how foolish it is to pay any mind to unverified third-hand stories (commonly referred to as "rumors"). What we have with the RC Sproul/Wilson/CREC scandal is little different; lot's of people with no first-hand knowledge, because they're too lazy to read the primary source documents for themselves, taking the word of people that are four or five layers removed from those who perhaps do know (but even that's debatable).

So what we have is "trust" that's four or five steps removed from the knowledgeable and responsible party. To call that "trust" is worse than ignorant. In point of fact it's not trust at all, it's willful ignorance.

Little wonder that one of the most common criticisms leveled at RC Sproul Jr and Douglas Wilson is that they're cult leaders. All people have to do is look to the willful ignorance of their followers to confirm their suspicions that Sproul and Wilson are cult leaders; perhaps bible-based cult leaders, but cult leaders none the less.

Church members think for themselves, investigate for themselves and ask probing questions when things don't smell right (and real church members have no trouble discerning for themselves when something stinks).

Cult members live in denial and avoid asking their leaders embarrassing questions, which is precisely the behavior evidenced by the followers of Sproul and Wilson. Logical conclusion?

There's a little phrase worth repeating here that President Ronald Reagan stated many times to his cabinet during the eight years of his presidency: "Trust but verify."

Monday, July 24, 2006

RC Sproul Jr Divides Home School Groups

RC Sproul Jr, When You Rise Up, A Covenantal Approach To Homeschooling
Among other things RC Sproul Jr is the author of When You Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling. It's important to say "among other things" because RC Sproul Jr is also a defrocked minister. Being the author of a well-respected primer on homeschooling and also being defrocked makes for an interesting if not highly controversial combination.

If you head up a home school group or some other Christian organization and you'd like to be accused of duplicity and folly, and if you'd also like to cause an acrimonious fight that could easily result in splitting your organization, a surefire way of accomplishing it is to contract with RC Sproul Jr to speak for your group. Also, be sure you don't tell your members in advance of your big event that RC Sproul Jr has been defrocked (a lot of people still don't know, so keep it a secret).

Prior to his defrocking on January 26, 2006 RC Sproul Jr was signed up to speak at several different functions, including speaking for two different home school groups, Christian Home Education Association of Central Texas (CHEACT) and Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC).

The question that loomed large for many concerned Christians was would those groups do the principled thing and cancel RC Sproul Jr and ask that a suitable speaker take his place on their podiums? In both cases they had ample advance warning prior to their June 2006 conferences and could have easily arranged different speakers to take RC Sproul Jr's place. But neither home school group did that. In both cases RC Sproul Jr had close personal ties and friendships with the directors and/or other key players in those organizations, and friendships won the day over principle.

We received several emails from home school families who'd previously intended to attend those conferences. They had the same concerns that we did. They couldn't in good conscience attend a conference where a defrocked minister was teaching biblical principles when he'd been stripped of his teaching authority and told that he was "not qualified." Some of these families were Baptists and independents, yet they seemed to appreciate the ramifications of church discipline and being defrocked better than many Presbyterians do.

One such email we received from a home school family included a copy of a written statement from CHEACT that they'd received as a direct result of expressing their concerns. The interesting thing is that this family was specifically told by CHEACT director Brett Adams that the document was not a public document, but rather was private. So why the big secret?

At least CHEACT attempted to offer some kind of response (poor though it may have been) to people's concerns. We've been told by people who contacted CHEC that their concerns were largely ignored. In point of fact CHEC director Kevin Swanson posted an article on his blog in which he infers that all of RC Sproul Jr's problems occurred as a direct result of "Alexander the Coppersmith" bloggers. No doubt that would include this blog. Yes, you heard it right! RC Sproul Jr was defrocked because of bloggers! That's like saying that Richard Nixon was impeached only because of Bob Woodward and the Washington Post. As an ordained Presbyterian minister Pastor Kevin Swanson should know better, but Pastor Swanson is evidently more motivated by his friendships than he is by biblical principle.

For conference attendees to have concerns over RC Sproul Jr's defrocking, and to express them, they'd first have to be aware that RC Sproul Jr had been defrocked. Many people didn't know that prior to attending CHEACT and CHEC, and CHEACT and CHEC did nothing to inform anyone about it, either on their web sites, or at the time people registered, or even after attendees showed up at the conferences. At no time did CHEACT or CHEC make any disclosures of RC Sproul Jr's defrocking. So how's that any different from a marriage enrichment conference not informing guests as they register that the keynote speaker was recently handed divorce papers because his wife caught him with a mistress?

Many people only discovered that RC Sproul Jr had been defrocked for the first time at the CHEACT and CHEC conferences, much like many folks first learned that RC Sproul Jr had been defrocked for the first time when they attended the Highlands Study Center Generations Conference. But even then they didn't find out by conference staff members. The way they found out was by overhearing it from other attendees there. Needless to say, this came as quite a shock to many. We don't view that as honest advertising. CHEACT and CHEC acted no differently from what the Highlands Study Center did by not informing the attendees of the Generations Conference.

Only those people who already knew that RC Sproul Jr had been defrocked, and only those who specifically contacted CHEACT director Brett Adams, received a written statement (people who contacted CHEC received nothing):


March 14, 2006

As a preamble, we issue the following disclaimer about resources with which CHEACT partners: "While CHEACT endeavors to assemble speakers, exhibitors and presenters who provide encouragement and relevant resources to home school families, the views and opinions expressed by speakers, exhibitors and presenters do not necessarily reflect those of the CHEACT Board or its members." This is not an abdication of responsibility by our Board, but rather a statement of fact and an acknowledgement that we are a diverse membership with different scriptural understandings. In fact, the Board of Directors of CHEACT takes responsibility to exercise due diligence by following up on every issue brought to our attention involving organizations and people with which we partner to safeguard, promote and encourage home schooling that glorifies God in central Texas families. That has meant researching curriculum, speakers and exhibitors (aka "content"). From time to time, this has precipitated in the removal of specific content from our conferences either by discontinuing the extension of invitations to participate in the future and sometimes by ordering content removed on the spot.

We view all possible content in one of three categories: immoral, amoral and moral. As it is our policy to disallow all content that is "hostile to the cause of Christ," we focus specifically on the immoral category, tolerate the amoral and embrace the moral. To identify what is truly immoral we investigate organization ties ("the money trail"), the background of the principals involved and available comments by others ­ taking into consideration from whom the opinion comes as well.

CHEACT is not a church or affiliated with any particular denomination. In fact, there is representation from just about every major denomination amongst our membership. Even our Board of Directors has diverse background and theological understanding, but that does not preclude us from joining together to advance the Gospel by striving toward our organization's mission. CHEACT cannot and will not be used to advance a certain denomination's agenda or any personal agendas other than those consistent with our mission.

Under my watch as Chairman of the Board for the past seven years, we have not found it necessary to issue a public statement in support of or in opposition to possible conference content. Instead, we have successfully handled these issues quietly, behind the scenes. But because of the relatively high profile of this summer's keynote speaker, and what we view to be an unscriptural handling of personal grievances by individuals using the Internet to sow discord, we would like to offer an opposing view in support of Dr. Sproul and our decision to not dismiss him as our keynote speaker.

For those of you not familiar with the structure of the Presbyterian Church, each local church has a "Session" made up of the pastor(s) and other elders in the church. Each session submits to a "Presbytery" in the church's denomination. There are 35+ denominations that call themselves by the name "Presbyterian." Here is a brief chronology of events:

1. On February 25, 2005, CHEACT contracted with Dr. Sproul to be our keynote speaker ­ long before the initial Declaratory Judgment leveled against him by his own denomination dated January 26, 2006. At that same time, we decided to send every renewing or new member of CHEACT a copy of his book, "When You Rise Up ­ A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling" as one of the best books we have collectively read that supports our mission to promote Homeschooling that glorifies God.

2. On January 26, 2006, the Westminster Presbytery, Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA), issued an 11­page Declaratory Judgment against Dr. Sproul and the session at large of St. Peter Church. It must be noted that this judgment was issued prior to any communication or requests for clarification from the Session. Some took this opportunity to publicly blast Dr. Sproul in a manner completely inconsistent with that found in Matthew 18, highlighting the fact that he was officially defrocked.

3. On January 29, 2006, CHEACT was alerted to the situation.

4. On February 3, 2006 ­ after having taken the opportunity to discuss each alleged violation directly with the deposed Session­ the Westminster Presbytery issued a 2­page letter of acceptance and forgiveness for clarifications and apologies regarding each of the named violations. The letter also formally released the former session members with the following words; "Again, we praise God for your confession and repentance. We pray and exhort all Christians to seek repentance and reconciliation as you gentlemen have professed in your letter because as Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr. has written, '... a true man takes responsibility for his failures. That is why a godly man's best posture in on his knees repenting....' We believe you men have modeled this attitude before all, and we are most humbled by your humility. Be assured that our love and prayers are for each of you." They were released without censure.

In summary, the alleged violations of this particular denomination's rules by the session of which Dr. Sproul was a part have been resolved to the denomination's satisfaction. And as each of these issues pertains to his role as pastor of a flock, and not home school writer and speaker, we see no reason to dismiss him as our speaker. Another cause for concern would have beenif he was acting in a manner resistant to the authority that God has placed over him, but the final letter from the Presbytery absolves him of this potential character issue (see #4 above) to our satisfaction. The RPCGA has moved on and so must we.

So, what steps did the CHEACT Board follow to come to these conclusions?

First, we read everything regarding the issues that we could find. Next, we sought clarification from Dr. Sproul's organization on each of the issues. We sought to understand the relevant portions of the RPCGA's Book of Church Order and to understand what portions of the denomination's rules and regulations had not been disclosed to the session at St. Peter­ which is openly admitted by the Presbytery in the letter of forgiveness and release. Finally, we sought to understand how these events within a denomination affected our ability to accomplish our mission outside of the denomination. It is not our role to take a position on any of the issues raised or dismissed by the RCPGA, unless they were to impact Dr. Sproul's ability to help us accomplish our mission.

Therefore, we have decided to keep Dr. Sproul as our keynote speaker for this summer's conference. We remain convinced that this brother has a lot to offer the home schooling community in the areas of instruction, encouragement and challenge as we endeavor to home school our children for the glory of God. We look forward to welcoming Dr. Sproul as the keynote speaker at a conference that will be jam­ packed with the resources and encouragement central Texans need to keep home schooling for the glory of God.

The Board of Directors,
Christian Home Education Association of Central Texas (CHEACT)
"Homeschooling for the Glory of God"
(Original signed)

So RC Sproul Jr still "has a lot to offer." Evidently that's all it takes to qualify to be a CHEACT speaker. Personal character and integrity are irrelevant. The fact that RC Sproul Jr abused his office and several church families, broke his ordination vows, and stole the tax ID number of another church denomination is irrelevant. CHEACT's letter is full of sham excuses and pragmatic rationalizing, but comes up short on biblical principle and honoring the church discipline of the denomination that had ordained and then defrocked RC Sproul Jr.

CHEACT and CHEC have acted no differently than what we might expect of the typical public school board. The difference is that public school boards actually know better than to go through with having defrocked people address their conferences.

CHEACT is now being rewarded according to their deeds. The latest word is that numerous CHEACT members are very upset by their board of directors' duplicity. They're troubled that they weren't informed in advance that the keynote speaker had been defrocked. They're troubled that the board made no effort to cancel Sproul and secure a keynote speaker that wouldn't generate so much contention and controvery. A CHEACT split is now in process, and the board of directors has nothing to blame for it other than their own duplicitous principle-compromising friendship with RC Sproul Jr.

We haven't heard anything specific yet about what's going on with CHEC, but it'd be surprising if there isn't a falling out going on with them too. When a board of directors acts duplicitously against its own membership it shouldn't be surprised when that membership shakes the dust off their feet.

Prior to all this both organizations had excellent reputations. Both of these home education groups had accomplished a lot of good things. How tragic and very foolish of them to risk everything on a defrocked Presbyterian minister. Let's all pray that they can recover from their folly. But first they'll need to publicly repent of their duplicity, pride and foolishness.