It’s time again for another episode of “Christians Behaving Badly.” I’ve seen some additional–and dramatic– stories of Christians who did not actually experience the 180 turnarounds that Christians like to say people experience with Jesus. I’m bringing this up because Christians like to pretend otherwise, and it’s time we really confronted this myth and busted it wide open.
Belonging to a certain religion doesn’t guarantee someone is good, any more than not being of a certain religion guarantees someone is bad. Being religious literally has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not someone is good–though it may well mean that such a person will be exponentially worse to others than someone who doesn’t have to “answer” for their behavior to a being they know deep down isn’t real. I’m pretty sure most non-Christians are secretly convinced that Christians are, as a group, way less moral than non-Christians are. This post is not going to be a morality Olympics, namely because aside from knowing that crime rates in Christian-heavy states are way worse than in more secular states, and aside from knowing that Christians are hugely over-represented among prisoner populations, I’m not interested in hunting up statistics right now. We all know nice Christians; that’s not the point. The point is that their goodness as people has nothing to do with their faith in any god.
What got me thinking about this topic today was discovering a fascinating tidbit about one of Matt Pitt’s many volunteers, a fellow named Alan Burdette. You might remember that Matt Pitt is that youth pastor in Alabama we talked about here, the one who liked pretending to be a cop and who apparently flashed a fake badge at people to get his way–and put blue lights on his ministry’s SUV (WWJDrive? Obvs, a tricked-out SUV with blue lights) to pretend it was a cop car, which gets real cops all kinds of testy. You might also remember that this youth pastor is the one who told his fellow felons in prison to come on down to his church when they get out, because there are all kinds of hot girls there who just love men in (prison) uniform–and, of course, by “hot girls” we mean “teenaged girls,” since he is a youth pastor and that’s the age group of his ministry, so basically this guy was whoring out underaged girls to criminals to entice them into attending church. That’s definitely one tactic I don’t think Jesus’ ghostwriters considered in the New Testament–I guess it must have been from some lost chapter of Acts. The point is that Matt Pitt isn’t a very good person at all despite having the usual requisite dramatic conversion story that all evangelicals hone to razor-sharpness and despite being able to talk really big about his transforming god.
So I’m sure you will be shocked–yes shocked!–to discover that one of Matt Pitt’s fervent volunteers has turned out to be just as dishonest and untrustworthy as he is.
Alan Burdette is a retired FBI agent and lawyer currently in his 50s. He did unpaid volunteer security for Mr. Pitt’s services. In 2007, he showed up in a news story about Mr. Pitt talking about how wonderful it was that Matt Pitt’s ministry reached people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in going to church.
Two years later, Mr. Burdette got caught in some high-end financial swindling, and two years after that showed up in court to plead guilty to conning innocent people–many old or otherwise vulnerable–out of four million dollars US in a Ponzi scheme. What’s weird is that according to one news story, people have been suing Mr. Burdette since 2006 for not paying them back money he’d taken from them for “investments,” which means that at the time he was giving glowing reviews of Matt Pitt, he was already stealing people’s money.
So this guy was lying for Jesus, pretending to be a dedicated Christian with a big ole pious Jesus smile on his lying, thieving face, well before he showed up on the radar as one of Mr. Pitt’s volunteers.
Mr. Burdette joins Ephren Taylor, a prosperity-gospel preacher who disgraced megachurch pastor Eddie Long described as “my friend, my brother,” who now stands accused of running an even bigger Ponzi scheme–USD$11 million dollars–which specifically targeted Christians eager to reap the blessings they believed their god would shower upon them for their obedience. And they both get to go sit at the adults’ table with Shawn Merriman, a lay Mormon elder who apparently conned nice Mormons out of some USD$21 million before he got caught. Let’s remember that these men are Christians, which means they’re positive that there is a god and a judgement after death–and yet they can manage to do these horrible things to people. Do they think their deeds don’t really matter as long as they believe the right stuff, as our dear friend Godless in Dixie’s put it? Or is there some deeper and more nefarious reason they can prey upon others and keep their Jesus smiles on their faces? Because let me tell you, more than a few times I secretly thought Biff knew his religious grandstanding was just an act–that he couldn’t possibly believe it for real, not and do the things he was doing.
Here are a few more stories, in case anybody needs to be told that Christians are certainly not inherently more moral or trustworthy than anybody else:
Sovereign Grace Church is facing one of the biggest and most shocking sex scandals I’ve ever seen in a Protestant church. SGC is famous for being one of the most sexuality-obsessed evangelical churches around–they’re one of the groups behind that “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, while homeschooling survivors will recognize the name of Joshua Harris, a protege of SGC’s pastor, who wrote the disgustingly misogynistic book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which got evangelicals all hyper about the very creepy concept of parentally-supervised “courtship” instead of normal dating. I hope y’all have read my blog long enough to know that when a Christian organization is this frothy about controlling people’s sexuality that there are almost certainly going to be a few skeletons in their choir loft, and this is no exception: SGC has sparked survivor blogs and groups where their victims can safely discuss the abuse they suffered there. The latest news concerns a pedophilia ring that passed children around like cigarettes and all kinds of sexual assault cover-ups–including the abuse of Mr. Harris himself. Shockingly, Jesus didn’t appear to fix the inhuman urges of the men in this church at all, and when put into a situation where they could prey upon weaker members of the herd without fear of repercussions, they did what predators always do, and they did it behind a Jesus smile.
Zachery Tims, a megachurch pastor who had a dramatic turnaround and was “saved” from a life of drug addiction to become a popular pastor of a thriving and large church, died in a hotel room a couple of years ago. For some reason, his family had been trying hard to block the announcement of the cause of death. They failed in that effort, and now, two years later, we have finally learned that his cause of death was an accidental overdose from heroin and cocaine. I see Jesus totally healed him of his addictions, all right.
Tito Morales, a famous “gangster Apostle,” got life in prison earlier this year for molesting a whole bunch of little girls at his large church. He apparently “brainwashed” his victims and told them to give themselves to him because he was an “Apostle.” When some of his victims escaped his cult, they told their parents, and finally these girls have gotten some kind of justice. He’s still maintaining his innocence–I thought lying was a sin? Huh. Guess Jesus didn’t quite deliver him either.
And one last one that I just heard about last night: a pastor in a deeply religious Alabama town just got arrested for stabbing his wife to death in a manner that local police termed “brutal.” Richard Shahan was caught by police as he was boarding a plane to flee the country. I can’t even picture the level of depravity someone has to reach to stab anybody with a knife–that’s some visceral-level violence right there. You’ve got to get up close and personal to do that to someone, and you’ve got to be so angry or so hellbent on harming someone that you don’t mind all the blood and gore that results. I can’t even cut myself by accident while cooking without freaking out, but this pastor managed to (allegedly) kill his wife in a “brutal” way with a knife. Speaking as someone who survived the threat of domestic violence from a minister husband, I’m just saddened every time I hear about some fresh allegation of violence committed against women by their “godly” husbands.
What I’m trying to get across here is that there’s absolutely no reason to believe that Christians are better people than non-Christians–and the bad Christians are so good at cloaking themselves in piety and sanctimonious posturing that often their deeds aren’t uncovered until it’s too late. There is literally no guarantee of safety. A Bible in a person’s hands doesn’t mean anybody is safe. Jesus-y talk and that weird “love me, believe me” me-so-innocent smile that only predatory Christians seem to be able to make doesn’t mean someone’s incapable of harming anybody.
Folks, a predator is still a predator even after conversion. A violent abuser is still going to be violent and abusive. A liar still lies. A cheater still cheats. A psychopath does not magically grow a conscience. A child molester doesn’t lose the desire for little children’s bodies. When you hear someone calling him- or herself any of these things, prick your ears up, because you may rest assured they are still the things they claim to have been delivered from being.
I feel so sorry for the people who believed in Mr. Tims and the other financial predators and gave them their money, not realizing they’d never see it again. I sorrow for the horrific abuse of all those little girls who landed in the clutches of that unspeakable villain Tito Morales. It’s staggering to imagine the abuse and deceit that went on at SGC before those unspeakable bastards got caught. And it’s downright sickening to imagine the terror and pain that Mr. Shahan’s wife must have felt as she allegedly died at the hands of her “godly” husband (not to mention that of all the other victims I linked to up there).
I wonder how much of this suffering could have been avoided had people been aware that gods do not actually change the core of who a person is or magically make organizations safe for all their members. I also wonder how long it’s going to be before Christians realize that when you set up one gender as having all the power in an organization and then give that gender divine cachet to lead and rule, then no matter how you try to make it sound like equality it is not, and yes, you are going to inevitably see the victimization of those who are led and ruled because they wield no power of their own except through the benevolence of those who rule.
Christianity’s had many, many centuries to make this model of religion work. They’ve had plenty of time to prove that their religion makes believers better people than those who do not follow their religion. You could certainly argue that all of the people and groups I’ve named here were doing it all wrong. You could. I don’t think I’d even disagree. But how many people doing it all wrong does someone need to see before declaring that this is not a good system and that it causes way more heartbreak than any good it brings with it? What protections are there for those who wield no power and who have no voice in their own leadership? How can these predators do this stuff and keep doing this stuff and justify themselves with the Bible and be taken for good “godly” people–and keep moving from church to church, safe from all detection and repercussions? What assurances are there that the men in power in these groups will not harm or abuse those under their tender, godly care?
None, that’s what. None. And yet Christians continue to perpetuate these hugely risky models of church leadership and family structures, convinced that if you’re doing it right, it works awesomely, not realizing that it only works for those who are already naturally fair-minded and genuinely trying to make it work rather than due to any divine grace in the system itself, and not realizing that they have created a social culture in which predators thrive and flourish and have their pick of victims, safe and secure in knowing that either they won’t be caught at all, or else that if caught they’ll get off almost scot-free because all these churches are filled with gullible Christians who genuinely believe in their hearts, against and contrary to all evidence, that their religion makes people better human beings.
Do some people actually experience–and more importantly keep up with–a 180 turnaround? Yeah, I’m sure it’s possible, but in all my years in the religion and as the wife of someone who was usually involved in ministry with whatever church we were in, I never saw it actually happen with anybody–especially not with my husband.
It’s almost as if there’s no deity magically fixing people at all or making them better people.
It’s the craziest thing.
With this in mind, with the understanding in mind that there are no magical changes in people just because they subscribe to a religious outlook, we’re going to talk next about what actually did change in me once I converted and once I deconverted–and what I see really changing in other people who convert and deconvert, as we hurtle toward another episode of the Unequally Yoked Club. It’s all about dignity, folks. Happy New Year, if I didn’t say so already, and may we all have a year of love and dignity ahead of us.