“They trust that nothing holy is free,
and so their lives are paid. Money slots
in the altar rails make a jukebox of the world,
the mind paying its gnawed coins for the safety of ignorance.”
“Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor
“Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
George Orwell, 1984
“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid .”
-Bertrand Russell, “Why Men Fight”
“[For people] to refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.”
-John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”
Below are the images of the characters in our story. Although John Folmar and John Welkner likely wish they had the same power as the Roman Catholic clergy of the 15th century, they do the best they can in their little fiefdom known as UCCD. Any similarities in the images of the 15th century Roman Catholic clergy and their modern day UCCD counterparts is purely coincidental!
The Magisterium of the United Christian Church of Dubai have been up to their old tricks! Doing what they do best – protecting the members of their church by squelching free discussion of subjects which might contravene the Papal decrees of His Holiness, John Folmar.
Those of you new to this blog will not be familiar with my story, so allow me to bring you up to speed with the condensed version of my experience at the United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD). If you are interested in reading about the events that led to my departure from UCCD in more detail you can do so at the Wartburg Watch blog.
I started attending UCCD in January of 2009. Initially I really loved the church, it was the first church I visited and I was so impressed that I did not see a need to visit any other churches. I soon became very active in the church. I attended the morning worship service on Friday, the monthly “First Friday” meeting on Friday night, the weekly Thursday night bible study conducted by Pastor Folmar, a weekly care group on Tuesday nights and the weekly staff book study on Monday afternoons (as my work schedule allowed.) In September of 2009 I was asked to lead a care group, which I did up until I quit the church in March of 2013.
What led to my quitting UCCD was the sexual abuse scandal in Sovereign Grace churches and the resulting cover-up by C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney had several books which UCCD promoted, at times from the pulpit. Mahaney is also good friends with Mark Dever. John Folmar was an assistant pastor at Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church prior to becoming senior pastor at UCCD.
C.J. Mahaney had fled discipline at his home church (Covenant Life Church, Gathersburg, MD) and started attending Mark Dever’s church. I had been providing John Folmar key updates on the continuing scandal at Sovereign Grace Ministries and advised him that he may want to warn his friend Mark Dever that providing C.J. Mahaney cover at Capitol Hill Baptist Church could really backfire on him. (It did.)
It was obvious my sharing of information with the pastors at UCCD was basically unwanted and ignored. I had urged them to quit selling Mahaney’s books, but Folmar told me they considered Mahaney’s book on the cross centered life a “go to” book for new Christians at UCCD, so he kept giving copies away at church functions.
I was growing increasingly frustrated with Folmar’s obvious lack of concern for victims of sexual abuse in the Sovereign Grace denomination. In spite of overwhelming documentation I provided him that C.J. Mahaney covered up sexual abuse and even blackmailed the co-founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, Folmar chose to continue promoting and selling the books authored by C.J. Mahaney. (This man would not even meet the qualifications necessary to be an elder at UCCD!)
In light of the continued promotion of books authored by a seriously flawed man I decided the good people who attended UCCD had a right to know about this scandal. A friend and fellow UCCD member had started a Facebook page entitled “UCCD Friends” in 2011 or 2012. I joined the group shortly after its inception and regularly contributed information. The UCCD Friends group had no official ties to UCCD, it was merely a private group started by an individual UCCD member. Anyone who uses Facebook knows that these private groups can only be accessed with the approval of the founding individual. The “UCCD Friends” group probably had about 100 members, none of who were UCCD pastors. People were free to post whatever they wanted. I posted many theological pieces, but others posted requests for help, for jobs, for furniture, etc. I started posting links to stories about the Sovereign Grace sex abuse scandal. It should be mentioned that my friend told me he never once deleted a post. It should also be noted that no UCCD pastor or elder ever spoke to me about my posts. Then one day in early March of 2013 my friend sent me an SMS stating that he had been removed from being administrator of the Facebook page and John Welkner was taking over the duties. I suspected what was about to occur. A few hours after I received the SMS I received the following email from UCCD assistant pastor, John Welkner:
As you may have noticed, I have removed several of your past posts from our church’s Facebook page. The posts removed deal with the crisis at Sovereign Grace. I sympathize with your concern for these important issues, however, I feel that the posts deal with the issues at play in ways that are unhelpful for our congregation and the members of the Facebook group.
Thank you for your understanding, please feel free to speak with me about any concerns you have!
Your brother in Christ,
Prior to receiving this email I had already experienced several things that had me questioning whether I should remain a member of UCCD. My wife and I had determined that we would quit being leaders of the care group at the end of the school year and scale back all our involvement in the church. I had already scheduled a meeting with assistant pastor Richard Ngwisha to inform him of our decision prior to receiving the email from John Welkner. Upon reading Welkner’s email I determined it was clear we could no longer continue in a church in which leadership chose to support a celebrity preacher over the victims of sexual abuse; further, I could not in good conscience continue as a member of a church which did not allow their church members to freely discuss such issues in an independent forum.
Jeri Massi, author of “Schizophrenic Christianity: How Christian Fundamentalism Attracts and Protects Sociopaths, Abusive Pastors, and Child Molesters,” wrote:
“Christian Fundamentalism is highly authoritarian. Unquestioning obedience to a single man in charge of a single church that is not accountable to anybody is a hallmark of the Independent Fundamental Baptists.”
While UCCD is not technically a fundamental Baptist church, it is basically a Baptist church modeled after Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Massi’s statement about fundamental Baptist churches is definitely true of UCCD. John Folmar cannot tolerate any dissenting views and he generally assigns his lieutenant, John Welkner to squelch any opposition. While Folmar continually states that UCCD is run by a plurality of elders, in reality it is a one man show. The assistant pastors are beholden to Folmar in order to keep their salaried jobs and non-staff elders are carefully screened to assure they will be compliant yes-men prior to being put to a congregational “rubber-stamp” of approval vote. (It should be noted that unlike a truly congregational church where any member can nominate someone to be voted on for the position of elder, UCCD elder candidates are selected by Folmar and then put to a vote of the congregation.) Those few men who were strong-willed, independent thinkers managing to somehow get through Folmar’s screening process were driven out of their eldership jobs within one year of taking office.
Another cogent quote from Massi:
“Not every Fundamentalist church is as outrageously corrupt as the ones I have named, but Christian Fundamentalism has failed to protect naïve, innocent, and youthful Christians from the sociopathic men who are able to rise quickly in Fundamentalism, gain power, build big churches, and start their own dynasties.”
Fast forward two years. I have another friend who actually quit UCCD prior to my escape. He is a kind, mature believer, 70 years of age. He has pretty much seen it all in Christianity. Up until last week he was still an active participant on the “UCCD Friends” Facebook page. Last week he posted a link to Baptist pastor Wade Burleson’s blog article titled “Five Reasons to say No to a Church Covenant.” My friend touched the third rail of UCCD. A church covenant is one of the key components of any Mark Dever/9Marks church. It is used to bludgeon any member whom leadership doesn’t like when they attempt to quit the church. Trust me, I speak from experience. My friend found his comment removed and his access to the “UCCD Friends” page revoked by John Welkner, or is that John de Torquemada? One would think in a group of “friends” one would at least receive an explanation for their expulsion. When it comes to UCCD you would be wrong.
And so they continue to bleed members.
“On the darker side are those congregations that are simply fiefdoms for bullies or insecure leaders that take people captive to their will by manipulating them with fear and guilt. I’ve been in the wake of such groups to help deeply scarred souls find healing. These groups often use the language of radical Christianity and attract passionate people, but that passion is soon twisted into legalism as everyone is told to follow the leader’s vision exclusively, to view other groups with disdain, and to abuse others by overtly or covertly marking and shaming people who do not conform. Sadly, some people enjoy abusive congregations, either because it makes them feel superior to “less-committed” believers or because they think their personal spiritual failures merit a weekly berating from the pulpit.”
-Wayne Jacobsen, “Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More?
“Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don’t let our people have guns. Why should we let them have ideas?”