This week has provided a lesson in contrasts. To begin, let me make it clear I'm no fan of Mark Driscoll. Google the terms "Mark Driscoll" and "bully" or "sex" if you're not already familiar with the man. The Wartburg Watch is but one blog that has published several telling articles about Driscoll.
Assuming you're all up to date on Driscoll and we're on the same page now, I trust it's apparent why I was surprised when someone sent me this statement that Driscoll tweeted Sunday. It doesn't seem to fit his "beastly" persona.
Now for the contrast...
Below is an excerpt from a comment on a previous thread by "Super Sleuth" which encapsulates what people have been telling me for the past month. I've heard it from enough different sources to know it's the truth. Besides, I've heard Steve Gaines opine on these subjects for years now. It's really nothing new. It's just become an obsession for some reason.
In the last 3 or 4 Sundays, Steve has been raving about something.
1) He chewed us out (9:20 service) for not embracing the New Age rock music and belittles us for still wanting the old tried and true songs of the faith.
2) He told us to get the heck out now if we must, because he does not want anyone leaving before or during the invitation.
3) He said kids should not run up and down the aisle or cry while he was preaching; he went on and on about it and told them where to go to take restless kids. (There were no kids running the aisles and no babies crying, but he kept on and on about it.)
I've heard Steve Gaines go off on parents with crying children before. I grew up with a pastor who would not tolerate crying children, so Steve is not alone here. And, as someone who is easily distracted and occasionally aggravated by crying babies and even more, by misbehaving older children whose parents don't make any effort to take control of the situation (i.e. spoiled brats), I am not totally unsympathetic. I'm equally annoyed by loud "ameners" and hand-wavers, too, but when confronted with such distractions I try to tune them out. I just think this "problem" could be handled more delicately.
Here is a great compilation video of Steve vs. crying babies. Listen to what he tells the congregation of Golden Gate Cathedral about the consideration they should extend to children. Then contrast that with how he acts at home at Bellevue. He loves them. He loves them not. He loves them. He loves them not. Which is it?
If looks could kill, the expression displayed at the 54-second mark would constitute a felony!
Apparently Mark Driscoll, somewhat surprisingly, loves them. "You chose life and chose to bring your blessing to church." Video of Driscoll on kids in church.
For years one thing about Bellevue that has struck me is the absence of children under the age of about 12 from the worship services, and this began long before the Gaines era. With the advent of separate "children's churches" there's little incentive today for parents to keep their children with them during "big church" and teach them how to sit still. So is it any wonder they act up when they finally do attend worship services? Perhaps this contributes to the drop in attendance once they reach high school and college age. They're no longer being entertained.
I do think age-segregated Sunday School (or whatever they call it now) is appropriate, but when it's time for the church body to gather to worship corporately, if a child is above the age of 3, s/he's old enough to sit with mom and/or dad. Of course, preachers like Driscoll are going to have to clean up some of their sermons, but that's okay. I've heard a few of Steve Gaines' sermons that weren't exactly G-rated either, so that would be a good thing. Then if the child cannot control him or herself, I think parents do need to escort the child outside as a courtesy to others, including the speaker, but only until the kid gets a grip and can return with the parent. So I have no problem with the "parents' room" and politely reminding people (before the service, not during) that it's available, but it shouldn't be a substitute for a child attending the service "live" with the parent(s).
After reports about him "going on and on about it" for the past couple of weeks, it culminated Sunday morning in a speech directed at parents of young children that was "blued out" of several minutes of the live feed and will likely be edited out of Sunday morning's sermon if it's eventually posted on the church website. (By the way, what have they done to the church website? It's completely messed up.)
In Sunday's bulletin was this announcement about Ryan Wingo leaving:
Which makes another part of Sleuth's comment... interesting.
And the clicker is that Ryan and Lindsey Wingo and 2 kids are leaving to go to Apex, NC. This is a real shocker.
Yeah, I didn't see that one coming either. Does anyone think a church with a staff of about a dozen people is going to pay a music minister anything close to what Bellevue does? Perhaps as someone said, "Maybe they decided There's Gotta Be More."
We now know what transpired during the missing minutes. (Thanks to the anonymous person who contributed that. I have verified its authenticity.)
First was a short announcement about Ryan Wingo leaving and a short, slightly awkward statement by Ryan. Then came the real meat...
Steve is concerned for his personal safety and does not want crying babies and misbehaving children distracting him! (After listening to this, might I suggest eyeglasses?) I have no idea if he's received a credible threat, if it's his imagination, or if he's using one incident of a man walking down the aisle holding a hat to make it sound like someone's crying baby and someone else's toddler running around all led to him feeling fearful. It's a mystery. I also do not understand why they felt the need to omit this from the live feed.
I stumbled across an excellent article on church "crying rooms" on the blog Monstrous Regimen of Women (a title which probably strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of most Southern Baptists). The blogger made some good points which I think Steve Gaines and all of us should consider:
1) The children behave better if there is no crying room or 'play room' as they see it. They sit in the pew next to us, leafing through books or drawing. If they get disruptive, one of us takes them outside to calm down before they come in again.
2) There are more young families present, possibly because they do not feel duty bound to sit apart from the rest of the congregation like outcasts because they have embraced the Church's teachings and been open to life.
3) People are more accepting of the fact that there are children in church because they do not expect them to be shut up out of hearing in a glorified cupboard. When an old lady attacked me for having 'distracting' children, she kept saying, "there is a facility, there is a facility. Your children should be in there."
Here is another excellent article from the parents' standpoint. Both these blog articles were written by Catholics, but the same principles surely apply to Baptists. On the one hand, Steve doesn't want crying babies disrupting the service, but never mind that the sound system is turned up so loud, in all services, during the music, sermon, and especially, for some reason, the announcements, that you either need earplugs or must be willing to sacrifice several decibels of your hearing every time you walk through the doors. I suppose the "source" of the noise is what matters. No wonder babies are crying. Their ears hurt!
Steve says, "It's the difference between heaven and hell." Well, it may mean the difference between a young couple or single mother ever darkening the doors of Bellevue again, too.
All this recent paranoia about Steve and the church being under attack... I do not believe "demons" are waging a full-fledged "attack" on Steve Gaines and Bellevue. I do not believe anyone at Bellevue, or in the USA for that matter, is being "persecuted" for being a Christian. Sitting in an opulent air-conditioned building worshiping freely without the threat of physical harm, I don't think Steve or really any of us appreciate how blessed and privileged we are. If a crying baby in a worship service is the worst thing Steve has to deal with, thank God! We have no clue what persecution is. One only has to look at several middle eastern countries right now to see examples of real persecution. To compare American Christians' situation to those of people around the world who are being tortured and killed for their Christian faith is a grave insult to all of them. So enough with the "we're being persecuted" schtick.
Most of Bellevue's problems are the result of a narcissistic, ham-fisted, my-way-or-the-highway pastor, spending way too much money on salaries and facilities and programs, and the sheer size of it. It long ago became more of a business than a church, and recent developments hint that it's veering dangerously close to cult status. In other words, Bellevue's leadership is their own worst enemy. And maybe, just maybe, that's the real clicker.