For the time being, Chuck Phelps is off the Bob Jones University Co-operating Board according to an announcement made on December 2, 2011. Keep watching because he might slip back on come May. I hope BJU will not schedule him to teach Pastoral Ethics again, although his practice does aptly fit their stated views.
He’s still on the WILDS board and he’s still on the Gospel Fellowship Association board. Though Phelps claims those two organizations are not affiliated with BJU (“Honesty is the Only Policy,” for Phelps), we all know better. We all know they are intimately connected. We know that GFA owns WMUU, the WMUU radio tower, and UMA’s building, and both BJU and GFA share administrators. And we know that BJU sees GFA as one tax-exempt arm of itself. As for the WILDS, I have the BJU Board meeting minutes where the idea of the WILDS was first mentioned in May 1967. This is just priceless.
Now the WILDS and GFA do not receive federal funds, so they are a little different from BJU. They do, however, involve oversight of minors, and Chuck Phelps has already unapologetically proven that he has very poor judgment in shepherding minors. If the WILDS and GFA are wise, they’ll “force” Phelps out like BJU did–whatever it was they did behind the scenes.
But back to GFA. . . . When I’ve brought up his GFA board membership, most BJU alumni say, “Meh. What difference does that make? GFA has no influence outside of Greenville. It’s irrelevant.”
And that, I would argue, is an incorrect assumption. If you go to a church pastored by a BJU-grad who still maintains a tight connection with “The University,” as we are taught to refer to it in our undergraduate years, you need to beware.
What do we know about GFA? We know that before Bob Jones College existed there were “Young People’s Fellowship Clubs” which were organized by Monroe Parker. We know that in 1940, it became “Gospel Fellowship Association.” We know that this “association” ordained freshly-minted grads and planted churches for them–ask those WW2-generation BJU ‘preacher boys’ who ordained them! And I know that, up until 2008, every church I’ve attended was one of these GFA-plants except for one.
Now there’s a little bit more to the story. BJU/GFA paid the first-year’s salary for those new pastors. That’s not that unusual. Lots of denominations do that.
Oops! Did I say “denominations“? Yikes! I meant, Fellowships.
Anyway, lots of denominational fellowship association alliances pay the pastor’s initial salary while the church is taking off. That’s normal. What they don’t do . . . is this:
This Church shall be an independent, autonomous church, subject only to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. There shall be no co-operation with any group that permits the presence of apostates or apostasy. Should this Church ever become organically joined or in any way identified as part of a denomination or association of churches, that part of the pastor’s salary, of four thousand dollars ($4,000.00), received from Bob Jones University, for the first year must be returned to Bob Jones University plus six Percent (6%) interest compounded yearly on the amount received.
Note: the Church was planted with this help from Bob Jones University, from which Pastor S_______ graduated. The University gave this help with three stipulations: (1. That Pastor S_______ spend full-time the first year getting the church planted, (2. That the Church baptize by immersion, as immersion is accepted by all churches, and (3. That the Church always be an independent, autonomous church. These three stipulations of the University Church Planting Program were already the convictions of Pastor S_______, founder of ________ Independent Baptist Church.
Pastor S_______? Did you miss the oxymoronic quality to your “independent” church? It’s not independent. It’s not denominational. You might could call it fellowshipinal. But you might just call it indenture.
Because that pastor–fresh out of undergrad–is signing away his life. Did you see that contract? Granted, it’s not enforceable in any court of law, but the kid wouldn’t know that! Pastor S_______, in this case, if he were to conflict with BJU, would owe them that first year’s salary compounded annually for the rest of his life. I did the math, and presently–if Pastor S_______ were to drop the word “Baptist,” for instance, from his church’s name–he would owe BJU $34,544.35. BJU can’t even sue for that money legally, but they can threaten.
And pastors don’t usually have that kind of money lying around.
So the pastors stay. Some retire early and permanently and close their church or rename it and move it up the road where BJU won’t find it. That’s why so many BJU church plants don’t endure. In those which do continue–and you know them. You know the “big BOJ churches” in your area–the pastors clench down on their people and bully them to please the Head Honcho when he comes around every few years to check on his investment.
“Meh,” you say. “So what? Every pastor does this. Every church. This isn’t new here. Nothing to see. Move along, folks.”
Oh? Let me show you what it’s like. Let me show you what life in S_______’s church is like. These documents are from the 1980s, but Pastor S_______ has passed them around willy-nilly so that even I have a copy. My sources wish to remain anonymous, and they asked me to black out the identifiers in these documents. So don’t investigate too deeply. This could be any BJU/GFA planted church. Anywhere. At any time. This is what’s considered normal in the indentured life of a BJU-sanctioned pastor. And in the life of a regular layperson who unwittingly attends.
Go look. Go look at your church’s constitution–all versions. Does it mention BJU, even obliquely (most are much more subtle than Pastor S_______)? If it does, get out. Because you and yours are at risk just like the student in those documents above who simply dared to disagree with BJU at his home church. His parents were hassled all over town for disagreeing with the pastor about the new popcorn ceilings, but that’s one thing, as ridiculous as it is. The fact that it carried over 800 miles away to a BJU student’s daily life? . . . that’s not okay.
I have other records documenting that in June 1954, Senator Strom Thurmond, at Bob Jones Sr.’s request, “checked up” on a BJU student in New York City over summer vacation for seeming to agree with Ted Mercer. A senator.
This is creepy, folks. Really creepy. And that “oversight” is what the “Gospel” “Fellowship” Association manages.