Of all the attacks, slanders, gossips, truths and traumas in the shameful debacle-drama of Harvest Bible Chapel, one woman’s lament echoes: I just wanted to worship God. That’s simple. That’s all. And it should have been that way. She just wanted to join in where Jesus Christ would be honored, His word taught, His ways lived, forgiveness granted, lives changed.
This woman is one of multitudes who suffer because of catastrophically failed shepherding. What led to the catastrophe? Celebrity and power and money served as a triple-seduction. Lusting for a little, then conquering some, leads to cascading cowardice and complicity. In Harvest culture, protecting the key man and multiplying so-called victories was paramount. It metastacized into an insatiable hunger to win and conquer and conquer some more . . . bigger numbers, more properties, more money, more adulation. Never-ending successes were relentlessly measured by How Big, How Many, How Much. I was there in 2007 when a man argued that the church’s leadership culture had morphed into a carnival house of mirrors, where truth was unrecognizable and where a horribly difficult place to work caused spiritual illness. (Of course, he was shouted down.) Lead vocational shepherds were owned and so would not or could not see the truth to tell it. Non-vocational shepherds were largely overmatched, kept in the dark, maneuvered into compliance and dazzled by complexity and the after-glow of hanging out with star power.
Vocational shepherds were owned. How could they muster consistent courage—or even occasional courage—to see and then to speak? Who can see and speak truth when he’s paid well more than $100,000 a year or even $500,000 a year? (Plus generous benefits.) Where could the man go where he’d enjoy a similar cash-cow? He’s got a big mortgage, a wife and kids. Where would he go? Or, for non-vocational shepherds, where’s a man to go when he gets much of his self-worth from hanging within the glow of incredible church success? Where is any man to go if seeing and speaking gets him cast out, vilified, ridiculed, ruined? Did all of them quench the principles of Christ? It seems so. Those principles were left to wither in a dark place of the heart. That dark place always multiplies fear and dread and, finally, ends in catastrophe.
But then, there’s that singular woman who just wanted to worship God. Spare her the drama, the dread, the conniving, the gaming. That woman is one of a multitude of tragic casualties.
She is akin to 800 U.S. Navy sailors who signed up to fight in World War II and ended up dead because of the prideful foolishness of U.S. Congressman Andrew Jackson May. He was a big man in 1944. Even so, May was the biggest reason why 800 U.S. Navy sailors died when Japan sunk 10 U.S. Navy submarines. These 800 were young men who simply wanted to do their part to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy.
Submarines in the U.S. Navy had avoided being sunk by Japan’s depth charge explosives. They escaped by traveling well below the depth at which the Japanese depth charges exploded. Japan had an odd habit of consistently setting the charges to explode at a depth of about 150 feet. So, U.S. submarine commanders routinely dove their submarines well below 150 feet.
Then Congressman Andrew Jackson May was in on a war briefing that noted Japan’s failure to sink U.S. subs. So what did May do after the briefing? He announced at a press conference that U.S. subs were safe because they travelled at depths well-below Japanese depth charges. Japan’s navy heard May’s comments and changed their tactics. After that, Japan’s navy sunk 10 U.S. submarines, killing 800 sailors. May’s astounding blind pride and stunning foolishness killed those young sailors.
How much wrath would Congressman May have endured if those sailors had had a chance to speak? Or how much anger would boil up from the families of those sailors? Immeasurable. That’s why so much wrath is being poured out on the failed shepherds of Harvest Bible Chapel.
After the war, May was convicted of taking $53,000 in bribes connected to government munitions contracts. He did not pay a fine. He spent only nine months in prison and returned to practicing law in 1952. He died in 1959.
It’s days and years like these that require the simple worship of the almighty God. We lean into His character and into His promises, as in Psalm 27:13-14 — I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord. (NASB)