Bethlehem Baptist and the Abuse of Abuse

In the wake of Jason Meyer’s resignation as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (henceforth BBC, John Piper’s former congregation), I wrote about his famous sermon on abuse.

I described how Meyer deceptively presented secular abuse frameworks as if they were an application of scripture, how BBC’s framework would allow the elders to declare any man they wanted an abuser, and how under their definition even Kathy Keller could be classified as a “severe physical abuser.”

A recent article in Christianity Today magazine shows that my warnings about BBC’s abuse framework were fully warranted.

The article describes how BBC elder Andy Naselli was charged with not being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” and thus should be disqualified as an elder and professor. While not technically a charge of abuse, it is rooted in similar logic and as the article makes clear, disputes over abuse and accusations of abuse (even “double abuse”) loom large in the divisions there.

What did he supposedly do?

Two BBC members objected to Naselli having posted a five star review of Joe Rigney’s appearance on the Amazon Prime show Man Rampant using his Bethlehem affiliation. Naselli identified himself as the author of the review and said he’d quit if the members’ motion passed.

Janette and Steve Takata, who have attended and served at Bethlehem since 2003 and 1990, respectively, were concerned enough that Janette made a motion at the churchwide quarterly meeting in January. She requested that, prior to Rigney taking office, the elders make a statement to “separate” Rigney’s views in the episode from “the views and teachings of Bethlehem Baptist Church.”

Janette Takata pointed out that Rigney was identified as being from “Bethlehem” in the video and that a BCS professor and Bethlehem elder posted a five-star review of the episode. She asked how the message, with Rigney and Wilson discussing examples of women using emotional manipulation or falsely claiming abuse, would square with the church’s own ministry to care for victims.

Naselli, associate professor of theology and New Testament at BCS, spoke up to identify himself as the five-star reviewer and said that if the motion passed, he’d quit. The threat effectively shut down discussion. The Takatas were jarred by the response.

This led to a back and forth which apparently led to charges against being brought against Naselli (who was ultimately cleared) by the Takatas.

You can read the details in the article. As you’ll see, people basically say that Naselli is mean and thus should have been fired as an elder or even as a professor at the Bethlehem College and Seminary.

I can’t help but compare Naselli’s threat to quit with Jason Meyer’s own similar threat in a sermon on race in which he said, “If you as a church don’t like what I said today, you will have to get another pastor, because I believe this to the back of my teeth.” Meyer in fact did end up leaving.

Why is it ok for Meyer to use that kind of language but not Naselli?

Should Jason Meyer and many others who’ve used similarly intemperate language (like Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson saying that Kevin DeYoung is engaged in a cultural project of white supremacy) be disqualified from ministry?

Will any of the people who attacked Naselli hold these other people to account?

Also, is there any evidence in the article that any of the named critics of Naselli, Rigney, and others were themselves quick to listen and slow to speak? Were the Takatas slow to speak about their problems with Joe Rigney’s video? Did any of these folks adjust any of their own views based on what they heard from those on the other side?

To ask these questions is to answer them.

The primary function of the kinds of abuse frameworks promoted by Bethlehem Baptist Church is to be used as a weapon by activists against their political enemies.

Because these standards for abuse or intemperate behavior are so vague, expansive, or subjective, they can be used against anyone at any time and it can never been shown objectively whether or not someone has violated them. Thus, abuse becomes an inherently political matter.

Naselli was ultimately cleared. Meyer is now gone and apparently many of the other agitators as well. In this case, it looks like the elders at Bethlehem did their job and are busy cleaning house, which is welcome news.

Hopefully those elders will act further to retract Meyer’s original sermon on abuse and publish new standards that are limited to actual abuse, objective in nature, and clearly distinguish between their biblical components and non-biblical, canon law type components.

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