Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 20, 2012 Show: My Perspective on Don Stewart

The biblical requirements of an elder in the church of Jesus Christ is clearly spelled out in the epistles of Paul in Titus and 1 & 2 Timothy. An elder must have a good reputation with outsiders so that he would not fall into reproach. He is to be the husband of one wife and have his house in order before he can take care of the church of God. 

The Bible-believing Church used to take these things very seriously. If a pastor and his wife got a divorce, the pastor would be put on sabbatical until the conditions of the divorce could be looked into and the determination could be made if there was a biblical out for the pastor.  If there was not, he was sent packing. However, that doesn't seem to be the case today as the rate of divorce and remarriage in the church is equal to that of the world. 

There are only two biblical reasons for divorce in the Bible: if the unbelieving spouse abandons the believer; or one of the parties commits adultery. That does not mean that the offending party is free to marry again - but that frees up the victim to move on and remarry.

But even if an elder's divorce meets the biblical requirements, he should still step down from leadership, at least for a time, while he is going through such an emotional upheaval in his life. A man of integrity knows this and will relieve himself of duty in the church until he can sort out his personal problems. 

Pastors Perspective is the name of the daily radio program of Don Stewart and Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. The two men also co-host a weekly one-hour program seen on HisChannel called World News Briefing. I share their eschatology and have been blessed by their insights into Bible Prophecy and the Word of God. They have helped many people calling into their radio program seeking understanding into the Word and guidance with personal issues. I have no ill will toward either men; I see them as brothers in Christ. Both of them have been a blessing to me in their teaching ministry.

On October 24, 2011 a friend of Don Stewart's posted this on his facebook page: "Just heard the news, CONGRADS!!!!!!!!" Don responded with, "Thanks Joyce; the Lord is indeed good!" Other friends chimed in asking Don if he just got married; none of them seemed to have known about it. One poster wrote, "Aren't you already married?" Then on the next day, Don's 15-year-old daughter posted this to the thread: "Are you getting remarried, dad??????" That got my attention.

I then posted my inquiry in the thread writing, "As a Christian pastor/leader Don I think you need to give the church at large - since you're a pastor at large - some sort of statement to explain your short few months of not wearing a wedding ring and then showing up wearing a brand new one. Should we just suppose you had biblical grounds? You can nip the tongue-wagging in the bud if you stand up to the plate."
Don then took the thread down and privately messaged me saying, "I will be making a statement soon about my marital situation...Timing is providential. We're in the process of telling a few people individually before we make some sort of announcement." 

No doubt the people he needed to inform included his former wife and their two daughters. After the thread was removed, his daughter unfriended him in her own facebook. 
I received a private message from Don's former wife who had seen my comments and added me to her friends list on her facebook. She assured me that throughout their 20+ years of marriage she has always been faithful to her husband but couldn't speak for Don. She assured me that she is a devoted Christian and does not take any of this lightly, but was biblically free to divorce him and remarry. Her daughters were part of the wedding party; while Don's remarriage was an apparent elopement void of family.

I received other messages from people who had seen my confrontation of Don on his facebook before it was removed. One stood out in particular, though I will keep her name confidential. She wrote:

"'Luke 16:18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.' 

Jackie, can you please elaborate on this passage and how it relates to a pastor who divorces and remarries? I am having a huge problem with how Don Stewart who is on the radio every day answering Bible questions for us Christians can seemingly ignore this passage of Scripture. I don't get it. How does this stuff just seem to get swept under the carpet? There is a long post on Don Stewart's wall about his new marriage and I am trying hard to not respond and be a total jerk about this. I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday but even I can understand what that passage means. And I know pastors are held to a higher standard due to the possibility of wrecking a whole congregation of people. Can you give me some insight? Thanks in advance."

Another thread had appeared with many well-wishers on Don's new marriage. He never did issue any statement, he only posted photos and himself and his new wife. His itinerary filling in for pastors at various Calvary Chapels never abated and he was just recently featured as a speaker this week at the Calvary Chapel Pastors Conference. His facebook page displays pictures of his new wife tending his book table and he is carrying on in ministry as if nothing has happened.

On the other hand, I have been maligned for calling this into question publicly with accusations of touching God's anointed and gossiping. All I am trying to do is challenge the leadership at Calvary Chapel to address this situation and look into the causes of the divorce. This speaks volumes of the lack of accountability within Calvary Chapel.

While the conference was going on, I started a thread on the facebook of Calvary Chapel Network that was soon to be taken down. I wrote:
"Watching the CC Pastors conference - Don Stewart now coming up to speak. I'm surprised he hasn't missed anytime away from the pulpit and radio even as he went through a divorce from the mother of his teenaged girls and then eloped several months ago with a woman who he now brings along with him in ministry. Is there no accountability within Calvary Chapels? Could it be that to insist on accountability puts fellow CC pastors under scrutiny they don't want to have to live up to? Just thinking out loud!"

The first response to my comment came from a leader at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Jim Hesterly who just said, "Right on." That speaks volumes, coming from a man who had been in the leadership of Calvary since 1970 and whose wife is a regular speaker at Calvary Chapel women's retreats around the world. I interpret that as an affirmation that what I was writing was indeed hitting the mark.

There is so much more I could say, but I am trying not to break any confidentiality. This situation is a scandal in the church and an indictment upon the health of Calvary Chapel where this was allowed to go on. Being on salary, I believe, contributes to a conflict of interest in doing the biblically right thing. When a minister is on the payroll, he certainly doesn't want to lose his "job" especially when he has child support to pay. 

His daughter has now refriended her dad and it is apparent from Don's facebook that he is trying to restore his relationship with his girls and acclimate them to the new step-mom, though they live with their mother. My prayers are for Don's family and that he would do the right thing and step down from ministry as he is now disqualified from leadership. If he won't do that, I hope the leadership at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa will do it for him.

For further info, listen to the January 20th 2012 program: