Posts Tagged ‘Seabreeze Church’

Church foreclosures

December 30, 2008

By now everyone’s seen the New York Times article by Louise Story; it talks about church foreclosures in general, and uses the story of Seabreeze Church in Huntington Beach, California to hold the piece together. The bigger story, about church foreclosures generally, is compelling because it suggests that a church is just another business, and it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that religious people are more generous when times are tough, rather than less. The smaller story, about Seabreeze Church is compelling in some circles because of doctrinal differences, or because the church had help in the past from Saddleback Community Church, home of Rick Warren.

Unfortunately, according to John Sexton the connection between Seabreeze and the current economic climate doesn’t make sense: he says Seabreeze is in trouble because of pastoral malfeasance:

  • In the first of two articles yesterday he places the blame squarely on pastor Bevan Unrau, for his authoritarian teaching and management style, for firing staff who disagreed with him and for driving away people who attended (and we assume gave money to) the church.
  • In the second article he takes issue with an article in the Orange County Register by Anne Burris, questioning the way the financial numbers are presented in the article.

At the heart of Sexton’s contentions in the second article is a claim that attendance at the church fell from 850 people to current levels of about 700; Sexton says that on the way attendance reached 1050; if true this supports his claim that some event inside the church caused a growing church to stop growing and contract.

Also mentioned in the story is the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, which according to the article wrote Seabreeze’s original mortgage and arranged for emergency refinancing when Seabreeze couldn’t meet its obligations under the original loan. They are probably an important player to watch as the larger story progresses, as they likely have many church mortgages on their books.

Which brings us back to the larger story: given the current recession, and the fact that it is about a year old, shouldn’t we see lots of church foreclosures in the news? Here’s what I found online:

  • May 2008: Blessed Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in South Memphis, a tiny church with 30 in attendance at their last Sunday service, is sold at auction as part of foreclosure proceedings arising from an $85,000 mortgage.
  • January 2007: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the foreclosure by BB&T on Cathedral at Chapel Hill for debts of “about $1 million.” At the heart of the foreclosure is pastoral misbehavior: Earl Paulk’s attorney admits Paulk had a sexual relationship with church member Monica Brewer.
  • November 2004: New Life Worship Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas defaults; no details.
  • Yesterday: Our Father’s House Baptist Church, Disney Oklahoma, faces foreclosure owing $400,000 on a construction loan; fire destroyed their former building two years ago. No other details appear to be available, so we can’t sensibly ask financial questions about e.g. insurance.
  • November 2008: Without Walls International Church defaults on a $12 million mortgage, again written by Evangelical Christian Credit Union. Weblog posts here and here. This is one of the ministries being investigated by Charles Grassley, Senator from Iowa, and pastors Randy White and Paula White announced their divorce last year.

And finally, Suzanne Sataline of the Wall Street Journal offers an omnibus article on church foreclosures; here are the highlights:

  • St. Andrew Anglican Church, Easton, Maryland. Also covered in Louise Story’s article above; a congregation of fifty people, they borrowed $850,000 in 2005 to buy a building as part of the ongoing Anglican/Episcopal conservative/liberal breakup.
  • Evangelical Christian Credit Union has begun foreclosure proceedings against 7 of its 2000 member churches this year; Mark Holbrook, President and CEO of ECCU expects to foreclose on two more next year. Had foreclosed on two churches in the previous 45 years.
  • Church Mortgage & Loan Corporation has foreclosed on 10 churches in the past couple of years; unable to liquidate the properties, it filed Chapter 11 this year.
  • Strongtower Financial says 2 of its 300 evangelical church borrowers are in default, compared with only one in the previous 15 years.
  • “Dozens more churches are listed as delinquent on their loans, according to a search of county court records nationwide.” This is kind of soft; I wish Sataline had given a number here.
  • Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, borrowed about $2.6 million in 2002 for “an education wing, a reflecting pool, and a tower.” It filed for bankruptcy protection this year to avoid a $3.3 million foreclosure judgment.

Of the six churches we can find here where the foreclosure took place during the current recession (since December 2007), two are tiny churches, one had a fire, one has a Senator asking questions about their finances (and the pastor has divorced), one had a shortfall of $1 million in pledged donations, and the sixth is Seabreeze. There’s no clear pattern here, and we don’t know much about the 21 churches in the bullets above, but it might be reasonable to suggest that the current recession has had an impact on small churches, which are especially vulnerable if an economic downturn reduces the giving ability of a handful of donors, but the larger churches seem to be more susceptible to questionable judgment on the part of their leaders.

Update 1: April 2008: Ambassador Family Church, Oceanside, California: Evangelical Christian Credit Union also involved, terms not disclosed. Church peaked at 800 people, fell to 200. Building delays were blamed, as was the pastor, Barry Cook. He and his wife Terri separated in 2006, divorced in 2007.

Update 2: I did some more digging and found this article at Street Prophets/Daily Kos. I can’t figure out who the author is; the author link dangles. The author mostly summarizes Sataline’s article and forecasts a radical shift in how Americans go to church. I might humbly suggest that forty foreclosures in a nation with several hundred thousand churches does not yet justify that prediction.

This begs the question, though: how many churches have mortgages or building loans? Nobody seems to know: both of the articles from the major news sources talk about foreclosure counts and how many churches there are in America, but neither of them puts the foreclosure number in the context that would be helpful: if every church in the country defaulted on its mortgage, how many churches would that be?

Update 3: See also my later post here for more details and analysis.

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OD Today: 30 December 2008

December 30, 2008

It’s New Years Eve Eve, and everybody’s either still on vacation or catching up after vacation. Here are today’s links, some of them a day old:

  1. La Shawn Barber comments on a story from World Net Daily about Jesse Kilgore, a 22-year-old man who killed himself after reading Richard Dawkins‘s book The God Delusion. “First, I take a hard stand when it comes to suicide. It’s the work of inconsiderate and self-centered cowards, whatever the reason.”
  2. Ingrid Schlueter picks up the Drew Zahn article on Focus on the Family pulling their Glenn Beck article; apparently misses the fact that World Net Daily is selling the same book on their website.
  3. Watcher’s Lamp collects links and briefly comments on the story of Gianna Talone Sullivan, who has visions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. “The foreboding messages from the Mary of Maryland resemble the end of days described in the Bible. However, the solution for global peace offered by the apparitions are not Biblical.”
  4. Defending Contending picks up the story of Jonathan Gagne and six other students in Granby, Quebec, who have been suspended for refusing to attend a mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture course.
  5. Defending Contending picks up Ingrid Schlueter’s comments on Franklin Graham’s comments on Rick Warren regarding his appearance at the Barack Obama inauguration, also takes a swipe at Billy Graham.
  6. John Baker picks up the story of Focus on the Family dropping their article pushing Glenn Beck’s book; comments on James Dobson: “its founder has a fallen Humanist view of what Faith in Christ is! He has a degree in and accepts atheist humanist explanations for peoples actions.”
  7. La Shawn Barber picks up the story of Herman Rosenblat, author of Angel at the Fence, a “true story” of love during the Holocaust that turned out to be fiction.
  8. Defending Contending shares a YouTube video of girls dancing to N*Sync, with links to two other cases of people dancing to pop music in a church sanctuary. “Ichabod!”
  9. James Thomas offers an “Appeal to Spirit-Filled Ministers.”
  10. Christian Research Network awards a “Political Correctness Award” to Rick Warren, citing this article from One News Now. I’m guessing no actual award will be presented.
  11. James White pushes a cruise; guest speakers include White, David Wheaton, Gary Demar, and Marshall Foster.
  12. Desert Pastor comments on the ongoing bombing of Gaza. Defending Contending links. “Americans would be crying for blood and the obliteration of whatever country desired to harm us on a daily basis.”
  13. John Robbins comments on Michael Horton’s recent interview with novelist Anne Rice. “He gave her a big platform to tout her garbage without any rebuttal, clarification, or warning.”
  14. Ken Silva offers more comments on contemplative and centering prayer; Silva’s argument is that because they originated with the Desert Fathers and not Jesus or His disciples it isn’t biblical: “This is where the antibiblical practice of Contemplative/Centering Prayer originated; it was not practiced or taught by Jesus Christ nor His Apostles, and it has no place in the life of the Christian.”
  15. Sam Guzmán links to this video sermon by South African pastor Keith Daniel: A Warning to America (76 minutes).
  16. John Sexton links to an article from the Orange County Register regarding Seabreeze Church, offers numerous comments. “Note: Giving dropped and no one is specifying why. The reader is left to assume it was the bad economy. It wasn’t.” “they took a $200K personal loan from a member (they took a couple actually, but one in particular came from someone who left the church two months later). The church has refused to repay the money after multiple requests.”
  17. Cindy Kunsman connects Geoffrey Botkin to Great Commission Ministries, with a timeline.
  18. Lighthouse Trails offers a Top 10 articles list.
  19. Orrin Judd links and offers comments on Barack Obama’s choices regarding church attendance: “After all, Christ only came on a donkey, the One rides a unicorn.” The Chicago Tribune article he links to offers some perspective, with a rundown of the church attendance habits of the previous four Presidents.
  20. Four Pointer does not like Coexist bumper stickers.
  21. Watcher’s Lamp offers two articles about Israel’s shelling of Gaza: one on Hamas shelling Israel, and another on Iran’s reaction and Egypt’s reaction, with related links.
  22. John Baker quotes and links an article from Right Side News by Caroline Glick regarding Hamas imposition of sharia law, including provisions for crucifixion of  “Christians, Jews and anyone else who does not conform to their ideology.”
  23. Michael Davis links and comments regarding a One News Now article on a lawsuit by Illinois pharmacists challenging an executive order by the governor, Rod Blagojevich, requiring them to sell “morning-after pills.” Davis’s comments: “Freedom of religion and conscience is at issue and many want to disregard the rights of individuals in favor of commerce. Throw in a progressive agenda that liberal politicians buy in to and you have the beginnings of oppression and persecution.”
  24. Ken Silva calls out Charles Stanley for recommending meditation.
  25. John Baker links and cites an article from Arabian Business regarding an agreement among five Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) to move to a single common currency.
  26. Ingrid Schlueter comments on an article from Yahoo! News about teens breaking virginity pledges: “Outside of the power of Christ in our lives, most of our vows against sin fall by the wayside. Our flesh is powerful and the culture around us is constantly parading around the supposed rewards of sin. Scripture tells us that the way that seems right to us, however, leads to death. Only when we are truly born again can we have the power of God in us to resist temptation.”
  27. Gay Christian Movement Watch comments on Gene Robinson‘s disappointment in Rick Warren’s invitation to give the invocation at the Barack Obama inauguration: “I should name this the battle of the false prophets.”
  28. Ed Stetzer on bearing false witness: “The same goes for people as diverse as Joel Osteen, Brian McLaren, and Jeremiah Wright. Regardless of how much we disagree and how passionate we feel, in all cases, people should be spoken of truthfully, even when we are disagreeing with them.We cannot not let a passion for the truth make it OK to not speak truthfully. God is never honored when we defend His truth by speaking falsely.”
  29. Ken Silva offers a quote from a book co-edited by Richard Foster regarding Thomas Merton.
  30. Orrin Judd shares some analysis on the current Israel/Hamas flareup.
  31. Scott McClare offers among other things a review of Francis Schaeffer’s book The Church At the End of the 20th Century.
  32. Herescope/Discernment Research Group shares a section of Jeremiah Burroughs’s book Exposition on the Prophecy of Hosea, particularly as a warning to an apostate church. I have to admit that I’m puzzled how the book of Hosea could be considered “the meat of the Word” for an evangelical Christian, and doubly puzzled that anyone from a Protestant tradition would consider “the Church our mother.”
  33. John Baker shares an editorial from the Boston Globe concerning human rights violations perpertrated by Hamas inside the Palestinian territories. “In direct contravention of international law, Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, utilizing homes, schools and community centers as launching pads, content in the knowledge that if innocent Palestinian civilians are caught in the cross-fire, it will be Israel that is criticized.”
  34. Ken Silva shares a letter from Margaret Manning, currently of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Silva, in his introductory notes, focuses mostly on Nouwen and a quote from his book Sabbatical Journey; Manning mentions Nouwen only once in a response that appeals mostly to Augustine and Luther: “We quote from Nietzsche and Ghandi – and yet no one is accusing us of being atheist or Hindu supporters. We quote from Oscar Wilde – and yet we are not being accused of supporting debauchery or supporting the homosexual lifestyle. Why is it then, if we quote from Henri Nouwen, or Richard Foster, for example, are we being accused of being in cahoots with ‘contemplative spirituality?'” This is a great question, and I’m looking forward to Silva’s answer.
  35. Lighthouse Trails shares another Top 10 list: their ten favorite articles by other authors this year. And another, their ten favorite articles from other ministries.

And in cult news, Wayne Bent of the Lord Our Righteousness Church has been sentenced to ten years in prison.

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OD Today: 29 December 2008

December 29, 2008

I’m still trying to do some backing and filling on the KJV Only movement, so a couple of today’s links are fairly old. I’m still looking for Pro-KJV-Only weblogs and/or YouTube streams; most everything seems to be from KJV-Only detractors.

  • YouTube user TellittoJesus takes on KJV Only, particularly Bill Bradley’s book Purified Seven Times. He considers the KJV Only Movement “the spirit of the Antichrist.”
  • Jerry at CRN.Info quotes from this article by William Murchison asking if looking to older stages in a particular Christian tradition is helpful if that tradition doesn’t faithfully represent Jesus and His teachings. Some coarse language due to a quote from a book by Robert Penn Warren.
  • Blogger KittyKit quotes this article by Thomas Horn: “As a Christian researcher and author of two books on the New Age, I find the increasing regularity of UFO sightings prophetically intriguing,” and in another post quotes this older editorial on Anne Rice and vampires.
  • John Baker quotes without comment this article from CNS News about 2009 being a crucial year in the debate about homosexuality and human rights. “Homosexuality is not a human right, [Gary] Bauer said.”
  • John Baker links with scripture verses but no additional comments to this response by someone referred to only by the initials “S.S.” to this announcement of an Assemblies of God missions drive called Invasion of America with the Gospel. The original announcement by Zollie Smith Jr, Executive Director of Missions for the Assemblies of God, includes the sentence “No one deserves to spend eternity in the lake of fire.” I’m not going to try to parse all the buzzwords and name-calling here to figure out if this is a sign of creeping Universalism or just a poor choice of words.
  • Dwayna Litz links to Nicholas Jackson’s column at News With Views with a suggested prayer for Rick Warren to pray at Barack Obama‘s inauguration.
  • Dwayna Litz offers links for people who are witnessing to cultists: Witnesses for Jesus, Inc. and Walter Martin’s Religious InfoNet.
  • Brian Thornton congratulates Focus on the Family for pulling its CitizenLink article promoting Glenn Beck’s book The Christmas Sweater, links to this Drew Zahn article at World Net Daily. Zahn’s piece does a poor job of explaining the differences between Mormon and evangelical Christian theology, summarizes Beck’s book, quotes Joel Campbell of the Mormon Times, and notes that World Net Daily is selling Beck’s book. I’m going to pass on the chance to say World Net Daily is “promoting Mormonism,” but that looks like profiteering to me.
  • Dwayna Litz recommends Jeff Sharlet‘s book The Family, and says she’s ordering a copy tonight. Jeff Sharlet has written several long-form pieces on the Religious Right, all of which merit reading. He’s one of the few mainstream journalists I’ve found who seems to speak the language, but he’s not personally a conservative Christian and his objections to what he’s seeing and reporting can be a bit difficult to tease out from time to time. His primary Web outlet is The Revealer.
  • ODM detractor Jerry at CRN.Info engages in the first part of a discussion with Jesus Wants To Save Christians, by Rob Bell and Don Golden.
  • Brian Thornton comments on Rick Warren’s “gay partnership” comment, calls it heresy.
  • James White shares a video from Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, where he responds to Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossans, and their claims that Mark and Luke present substantially different accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion. The video is forty-three minutes long, and I have to admit I haven’t watched it all. The direct link to the YouTube video is here.
  • Lighthouse Trails comments on a Christianity Today interview with Franklin Graham regarding Rick Warren’s opportunity to pray at the Barack Obama inauguration. “We present this article as an example of how Christian leaders (such as Graham) are not warning the body of Christ about Rick Warren’s teachings and beliefs that include a three-legged global peace plan and the new reformation/new spirituality.”
  • John Sexton picks up the Seabreeze Church financial situation. He attended this church and was part of the building search committee, and he fills in details missing from the Times story; he blames the pastor, Bevan Unrau: “The senior pastor (forlorn man) spent four months at the end of 2007 talking about his authority. We heard about it at a men’s retreat, then in sermons, then in leadership meetings. He made it clear to everyone that he was the sole decision maker for the church. Then he preceded to fire the church secretary, the youth pastor and the worship pastor. I quit shortly thereafter. Other quit too. About 150 people left the church over the next three months. And, surprise, the church began to struggle financially.” For the record, I don’t think there is enough of this sort of name-naming when a church is in trouble: Sexton relates fact claims that can be verified or falsified, and that puts his account head and shoulders above most of the troubled-church narratives I’ve read and heard.
  • Sharon Lindbloom suggests that the LDS Church is mixing Joseph Smith into their Christmas observance, in a role that is similar to the way Santa Claus is mixed into Christmas observance in the broader culture.
  • John Baker quotes an article from the Pak Tribune that claims Prince Charles of England says the “clash of civilizations could be averted by following the teaching of Islam and Quran.” For the record, the article is not a direct quote. In the comments there’s this link with comment by Tony Blair: “‘In the first place, you understand what it means to believe. What you often find is that you immediately have something in common with another person of faith, even if he belongs to a different religion. As well as that, one is interested in other religions. One’s motivation is greater. I regularly read the Koran, practically every day,’ Blair told the interviewer. He said the Prophet Mohammed had been ‘an enormously civilizing force.'”
  • Michael Davis links and comments regarding a One News Now story regarding an ACLU lawsuit over explicitly Christian prayers at the Forsythe County, North Carolina board meetings. Davis appeals to the example of the framers of the Constitution: “Apparently, those who wrote the Constitution in the first place did not think that prayer was a violation of their efforts and many but not all of the prayers did reference Jesus.”
  • fourpointer at Defending Contending offers the twenty-second article in a series of fifty responses to Mormon questions, regarding whether Mormons are monotheistic, polytheistic, or as fourpointer states, henotheistic.
  • John Baker copies an article from Berit Kjos, relating Robert Muller’s World Peace Plan 2010. The original appears to be here.
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OD Today: 28 December 2008

December 27, 2008

Starting today I’m going to break the day when WordPress does, at midnight London time, more or less.

  • Julio Severo copies a Life Site News article about Cleber and Bernadeth Nunes, who have been convicted of homeschooling their children in Brazil; the article says the judges acted in the best interest of the school system rather than looking at the merits of the Nunes’ case.
  • Cindy Kunsman offers guidelines for leaving a cult, including how to find an exit counselor, with lots of links.
  • Ingrid Schlueter scolds Seabreeze Church, of Huntington Beach, California, mentioned in yesterday’s New York Times on churches facing foreclosure, for canceling Sunday services but not their New Years Eve party: “I can assure you that while the dancers will be ‘dressy’ for shaking their fannies on the dance floor New Year’s Eve, the church members don’t bother with such niceties when it comes to the worship of the King of Kings on the Lord’s Day. That, people, would be legalism.”
  • Dwayna Litz shares email claiming unnamed liberals’ parse Matthew 25:40 incorrectly; if I read this correctly, the author believes good works should be reserved for other Christians.
  • John Baker links to an article from Der Spiegel interviewing Yona Metzger, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, about the prospects of using Abraham as the starting point for a “United Religious Nations — just as there is the United Nations in New York.” Unfortunately, Metzger seems to think that “Christians associate themselves with .. Esau.”
  • Orrin Judd links to a Telegraph (UK) article about 2008 being a tough year for Global Warming theorists.
  • Angela Harms weighs in on what it’s like to be a non-post-evangelical emergent Christian: “But while post-evangelicals are standing around talking to each other, people like that are not being invited in to experience this beautiful thing that is Jesus Christ. And I’m not (though I’m stubborn enough to be here anyway). I’m bored with the emergent blogosphere, and hungry for getting into the meat of this path. I don’t want to talk about how Christianity is changing, and who is happy about it and who is not. I want to sing about how wonderful he is, how grace is the most amazing thing, how following him is what life is all about.”