It’s a busy day and I have a lot to do: my son’s 16th birthday, a Christmas play tonight, a long drive tomorrow for which I still need to pack and clean. But I just read an article in Christianity Today and, in light of my recent posts and frame of mind I feel an overwhelming compulsion to comment on the topic.
In a season where we celebrate incarnation – the idea of God coming to earth as a man, and in a culture that is primed for reformation – the spirit in which we challenge elements of an established practice or ideology, the CT article on Wayne Jolly Ministries is appropriately timed. I won’t go into detail – I encourage you to read the article. The basic story is one that is all too familiar. A gifted teacher and charismatic leader pulls people around him, wields unreasonable influence over their finances, families and relationships and manages their loyalty with fear and intimidation. This is a cult. As the title of the CT article suggests, Jolley doesn’t care if that’s what people are calling it. Not caring should be a major red flag in any environment.
As I have sought to evaluate scripture through new filters, question the teaching of churches and pastors and professors that have dominated my life, the awareness of a “void” has been very real to me. It is that void to which leaders like Jolley are drawn. It’s when we question what “is” that someone – anyone – with an answer to that question begins to look comfortable, secure and appealing. And yet I find it ironic that while we may be cautious and critical of Jolley and those who follow him, we are also critical of those who didn’t follow another who came into the world and presented a path toward filling a spiritual void. He was born in a manger, lived a simple life, healed the hurting, taught the teachers, and died a cruel and unjust death. Most people of his time didn’t see him for who I now believe him to be: the Son of God.
So why Jesus and not Jolley? The answer to me lies in the source of their authority. Jesus showed no need to intimidate his followers. He knew his authority came from God, it didn’t have to be proven or demonstrated or attested to, it just was a fact of his existence. That continues today in the work of the Holy Spirit as our hearts and minds are opened to the discernment of scripture and the teaching of others. It’s work. It’s tedious. It’s tempting to let someone else do it for us (a random blogger on a busy day in a coffee shop, for example), but it’s something we must each must take on for ourselves. That may mean you come to a different conclusion that I have, and, as long as we are both pursing to live as Christ has suggested we live, we will have to find a way for our unity in Christ to continue in spite of our different understanding. But that is what spiritual maturity needs to look like. That is what any reformation needs to be geared toward.
I’ve been part of “reformations” in the past. In the mid 90’s I was working for a Christian artist as he produced his own call for a reformation of the Christian Music industry. (It was an old life and an old name. I’ve grown a lot since then, but still value that experience.) I have long since left Nashville and pursued other avenues of ministry and life, but worshipping God through music is still near and dear to my heart and it saddens me that people like Ed Cash are caught up in something as damaging as Wayne Jolley Ministries.
To that end I think there needs to be action taken to prevent the spiritual abuse that Jolley and those like him would perpetuate on a generation of people who are spiritually vulnerable. To the Christian Music Association (sponsor of the annual Dove awards): I ask that you break your ties with Ed Cash until these allegations of abuse and indiscretion can be accounted for. Chris Tomlin, and all the other artists who have worked with Cash, please do more than distance yourselves from the situation. Use your significant influence to bring about truth and justice. Work to reunite the broken families, to help heal the damaged hearts and minds that the success of your projects (through not fault of your own) has indirectly helped to facilitate. And to Wayne Jolley – my prayers for you are the most intense. You may label me as having a Jezebel Spirit, but you are the one who is defiling the name of Christ and abusing his people in some form or another. Stop it. Now. Begin the work of unraveling the webs of deceit and destruction in which you have trapped the lost and hurting.
To the parents, ex-spouses, children and victims of ministries like this around the country, my prayers are with your this holiday season. My eyes are even a bit “sweaty” as I think if the pain that you may be enduring in the name of a religion that is mis-using the name of our Lord. You may not have the benefit of national exposure in a magazine article, but I pray you find a voice, that the truth of God will give you peace, and that you truly experience the incarnation of that truth in your lives.
(Thank you, Bob Smietana for applying your journalistic skills to this story and shining a much needed spotlight on the hurts this man is inflicting.)