Various stories of drug-dealing evangelical pastors reveal some very dark facets to evangelicalism as a whole.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

A pastor from North Carolina, along with his son, has been accused of manufacturing and selling marijuana, magic mushrooms, THC wax, and vape pens from Southside Baptist Church in Lexington, North Carolina. This story occurs very close to an opinion piece that Christianity Today recently ran that advised that church pastors needed to adopt an “all hands on deck” attitude to deal with rising drug overdoses and deaths. Somehow I don’t think they wanted that attitude to extend to pastors dealing the drugs themselves.

This story is not a weird new situation. In fact, it is fairly common. Thus, it tells us a very dark story about just how useless evangelicalism really is in solving the large-scale societal problems that it inadvertently helps to cause.

Situation report: The pastor in question, Josh Price

Josh Price worked as the pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Lexington, North Carolina. As far as I can tell, Southside is not a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Their site lists six “Southside” churches in their directory for the area. However, none have the correct address.

Like many evangelical churches these days, this one looks quite small—a simple rectangular building with a peaked roof, little steeple on top. Around it, a lush rural landscape spreads out: well-tended homes and gardens, trees, and little country roads.

The Google Maps image of the church comes from August, 2021. So it’s quite curious to note that their roadside church sign is completely blank in that image. The church itself bears no signage whatsoever, though it looks nicely painted. Behind it, its worship center looks similarly well-tended but empty. Not a single car occupies its barely-maintained parking lot.

Josh Price became the little church’s pastor shortly before the pandemic began, it seems. I can find no information about his education or what previous churches he may have run. Once he came to power, though, he apparently took to it like a feudal lordling who’d finally come into his inheritance:

A former member of the church says when Price took over a few years before, he told the congregation to leave and not come back.

“The church was not closed because of COVID. It was closed because he [Price] run everybody off,” he said. “That church shut down way prior to that.”

He also says drugs were only part of the problem, claiming Price wouldn’t let family members visit the church cemetery and stored furniture in the sanctuary.

Local12 story from June 4, 2023

The timeline this former member offers is consistent with other information I’m finding. This church has been closed for years. It appears to have closed well before the pandemic began.

This pastor found a new purpose for a closed church

However, as one door closed, another one opened for Pastor Josh Price, who found a new way to utilize the church’s buildings and land. Local news station WBTV reports that in late May of this year, the local sheriff’s office got a tip regarding that very repurposing:

Deputies from the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office arrived at South Side [sic] Baptist Church in Lexington after receiving reports that a man staying at the church was manufacturing marijuana. [. . .]

“Upon further investigation, deputies searched the property and seized about 12 pounds of marijuana, about 32 grams of psilocybin mushrooms, 41 THC vape pens, 20 marijuana plants, and about 2 pounds of tetrahydrocannabinol wax (THC wax),” according to the DCSO [Davidson County Sheriff’s Office].

3 WBTV, June 1, 2023

The operators of this drug den had settled in very nicely, too. They had established a full growing operation there with grow lights, potting soil, and all the other stuff one needs to grow the devil’s lettuce.

Another news site, News 13 WBTW, tells us that the sheriff’s deputies also found two men living at the church’s worship center. Though they don’t name the men, they do record their ages. The ages listed are those of Josh Price and his adult son, Matthew.

Marijuana is still illegal in North Carolina, as are magic mushrooms. So the men arrested are in a lot of trouble right now.

This isn’t the first evangelical pastor caught dealing drugs

Look, if I wanted to point and laugh at evangelical pastors caught dealing drugs, we could be here all day. This is far from an uncommon occurrence. Here’s a selection of some interesting cases in recent years:

In 2016, police charged a fundamentalist pastor in Indiana, Robert Jaynes Jr., with running a multi-million-dollar drug-selling ring. The fiery pastor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to over 11 years in prison under federal rules. Notably, Jaynes hired a bunch of his church members to work for the ring.

In 2018, a judge sentenced the extremely bombastic, popular, and charismatic preacher John Lee Bishop to five years in prison for international drug smuggling. At least the popular young megapastor didn’t involve too many of his flock in his criminal activities—just his wife and son, according to Vanity Fair. In 2020, he tried to raise funds for treatment of a brain tumor he claimed to have. (The prison authorities said that wasn’t necessary. They fully covered all inmates’ health care.) The next year, the prison system granted Bishop an early release. I’ve no idea what he’s doing now.

But I am willing to bet that 90% of Bishop’s story is pure, unadulterated bullshit. The true part likely doesn’t go much further than Bishop’s affair, his subsequent firing, and getting caught with tons of pot in his car. For one thing, since 2013 Mexican cartels have sent less and less marijuana into the United States. For another, rest assured that no cartel leaders ever directly engaged with him, especially not after his son’s friend got arrested while driving his car, or considered Bishop their “unofficial pastor.” Many other details in his story don’t add up either. Really, Bishop’s story reminds me of a Satanic Panic testimony. It’s gonna be hilarious if the movie project that testimony inspired ever escapes development hell.

(Related: The hilarious and largely fanciful drug-gang hijinks of “He’s in Love With a Church Girl“)

This past February, police charged a Seattle-area pastor with dealing a whole lot of drugs. Apparently, Steve Parker also bragged about leading a double life. By day, he led a ministry aimed at helping people suffering from addictions and misfortunes. But by night, he operated an ever-expanding drug empire.

As you can see, Josh Price nestles comfortably into this niche.

If their salt loses its saltiness, what on earth can drug-seeking clients use for salt?

When heathens say they need evidence that Christianity’s claims are true before they can accept those claims, evangelicals usually leap to trying to demonstrate the literal truth of Bible myths—especially Creationism—or proving that miracles are totes for realsies real. After all, just about every religion makes truth claims about their deities and mythology that aren’t literally true. For me, how believers engage with that lack of literal truth matters much, much more than the lack itself ever could.

But for my money, it’s the non-supernatural claims that evangelicals make that really reveal their religion’s worst flaws.

And evangelicals certainly make a lot of non-supernatural claims about what their religion can do and has done for its adherents. One of their biggest claims involves the huge, deep personal changes that belief and devotions work in converts’ lives.

However, we can look at evangelicals themselves and see that they are no better—and all too often are considerably worse—than heathens are in terms of kindness, compassion, honesty, and all those other wonderful qualities. However profound their beliefs might be to them on a personal level, that fervor almost never translates into them being better people. This is a fact that very few evangelical leaders will ever admit, though a few voices shout it in the wilderness.

In Christianese, evangelicals love to imagine themselves as the “salt and light” of a sad, hellbound world full of heathens. “Light,” of course, means that they mistakenly think they can shine Jesus’ very own light upon those heathens. They think that this imaginary light both enthralls and repels their targets. “Salt” means that they show disapproval at heathens in the hopes of gaining compliance and conversion. This imagery derives from something Jesus says to his followers in Matthew 5:13-16:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Thus, if evangelicals themselves are raging hypocrites then they can’t really be “the salt of the earth” for others. Similarly, they also can’t really act as effective conduits for Jesus’ supposed light.

Out of every evangelical who should be well-equipped to follow evangelical rules, pastors should be. They know exactly how to use the limited tools that evangelicals possess. They know the stakes should they falter.

And yet they fail—repeatedly, completely, and most of all spectacularly.

Christianity Today wants all hands on deck—but not like this, I’m sure

Not long ago, Christianity Today ran an editorial about America’s ongoing drug crisis. Its writer, Brett McCarty, requested “all hands on deck” to handle it. With sensitive phrasing, he described various evangelicals and evangelical-run ministries trying to help drug abusers across America. Ultimately, he seeks to find some path forward for evangelicals that allows their more conservative and their more progressive elements to combine their strengths.

As it turns out, conservative evangelicals really don’t like programs like needle exchanges or the use of medication and real therapy to help wean addicts off of their substances of choice. Instead, they prefer to view drug abuse as a spiritual problem. Conveniently, spiritual problems require spiritual solutions—and they’ve no shortage of those to push at desperate people.

(A friend of mine once said she always mentally translates “spiritual” to “imaginary.” Now I can’t stop doing the same.)

McCarty wants conservative evangelicals to accept that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to America’s drug crisis. That acceptance, he feels, will open the door to better cooperation with people they perceive right now as their ideological enemies.

He’s not wrong, though I have severe doubts at this point about whether or not anyone can steer the conservative-evangelical ship away from its fated meetup with its iceberg. Nor is this even the first time Christianity Today has called attention to addiction in evangelicalism.

I can say this, however: Whatever McCarty’s visualized path looks like, it probably won’t feature pastors (and disgraced ex-pastors) selling drugs, smuggling them, and growing them under the cover of church ministries. That can’t possibly help evangelicals figure out how to tackle addiction.

But it is part of the reason why evangelicals struggle so much to find a way to speak to this huge problem.

This story illustrates some dark truths about evangelicalism in particular

Just as faith doesn’t change evangelicals themselves, it doesn’t change their circumstances, habits, proclivities, or dysfunction. It just gives them a layer of Jesus frosting to cover up all of that.

Beating drug addiction requires a lot more than just a layer of Jesus frosting. Not to be Captain Obvious here or anything, it requires deep, consistent changes to mindset, habits, social circles, dysfunctional thinking and behavior, and more. Even wanting to make those changes doesn’t ensure it’ll happen right away; I’ve heard many times that addicts often relapse repeatedly before they capture the exact and personal combination of traits and skills they need to reach escape velocity.

Some of the pastors covered here today, though, didn’t just prey on heathens. They happily preyed upon their own flocks. Some even hired their own followers to work for them and help them prey on others. Two even got their own sons involved in their respective criminal enterprises.

Jesus did not lift a finger to help any of their customers/victims/kids. Nor did Jesus manage to convince a single one of them to stop preying on others. To use the Christianese, he did not convict any of these drug-dealing pastors. (That means he didn’t make them feel so guilty that they had to stop, which seems to me to be the very least that an omnimax god should be able to do!)

All of this stuff really makes me wonder what would happen if church leaders ever had to face real accountability. I’m not even talking about them paying taxes, though I would love to see that happen before I depart this good dark earth. No, I’m just talking about stuff like filing IRS Form 990s every year—like pretty much every real charity must.

And yes, some even darker truths besides even that

This story gets even worse when we consider the nature of evangelicalism, especially the form of it that today’s guest stars pursued.

One might well say that the pressures of that kind of evangelicalism can lead people into various self-medicating addictions. It is, after all, a ferociously authoritarian system. But it is so completely dysfunctional that it can no longer fulfill its own stated goals. Instead, it exists as a conduit of power for its more ambitious and sociopathic leaders.

Nobody can show weakness in that environment, nor admit to big mistakes or errors in judgment. However, all they need to be able to do is seem like they’re doing great and that they’re reveling in Jesus’ attention all the time. As a hugely superficial, surface-level, Jesus-frosted community, evangelicalism is uniquely suited for the wearing of masks.

Thanks to these factors, pastors who want to abuse others and defy the group’s rules can easily do so. Even these days, they have a good chance of never being exposed as hypocrites, much less penalized for it.

The Party of Ultimate Accountability turns out to have next to none at all.

At least it gives us some good jokes, right?

Maybe that’s why Southerners have such a wealth of criticisms of hypocrisy that masquerade as barely-disguised jokes. Here’s my favorite:

You know how to keep a Southern Baptist from drinking all your beer on a fishing trip? Invite a second Southern Baptist along!

I heard that one from an actual Southern Baptist pastor when I was a teenager in the 1980s. At the time, it blew my mind that any fervent Christian would ever drink. Or do drugs. Or have unapproved sex.

Nowadays, I’m way more surprised that any of them don’t.

When a group promises that divine help can totally fix absolutely everything, but that divine help isn’t actually real and never materializes and nobody’s allowed to point that out, it’s no wonder that evangelicals have all of the problems that they do.

Right now, they’re facing problems on both sides of the addiction equation: Supply and demand. And their ideology does absolutely nothing to fix either side of that equation. Only reality could help them, but as McCarty points out, quite a few evangelicals want to try everything except that.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments