I struggle whether to blog on tragic news events with real victims still suffering, and about which I can do nothing. I am not a journalist, the story is not local, and I don’t want to prey off of others’ sensational misfortune just to garner a minor increase in blog traffic. But, being a Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) blogger, I do feel that when something newsworthy happens in our niche of culture, it’s worth at least knowing about if only for reflection and with a view toward “big picture” issues.
This should go without saying, but I will say it anyhow: please pray for the church and families involved in what I am about to describe. My commentary and reaction follow my summary.
|Happily married couple…
The youth pastor…
His childhood, sweetheart bride…
Around 10-10:30 on Thursday, November 17, 2005, Southside Assemblies of God youth pastor, Eric Brian Golden, fought with his sweetheart bride, Deadra “DeeDee” Marie Golden. Their Savannah, Georgia, neighbors were not alarmed. Police were not called. Michael, their 15-year-old son, slept soundly through the battle. But before dawn DeeDee would lay at the bottom of a shallow grave outside Fort Stewart, Georgia with a broken neck. She had been strangled to death.
Eric Brian Golden was born in Alabama on a slow news day: Saturday, December 13, 1969. Fast forward 18 years, to 1987. Golden and his high-school sweetheart, DeeDee, graduate high school. They marry, and he joins the Army. She becomes the dutiful army wife, shuttling from base to base, assignment to assignment. When Golden finally left the Army he’d experienced Desert Storm and attained the rank of sergeant. Though the news reports aren’t clear whether Golden was a “buck” sergeant or had advanced to any of the higher NCO ranks (such as staff sergeant, sergeant first class, master sergeant, first sergeant, or beyond), it seems unlikely or the rank would’ve been mentioned. Regardless, Golden had sufficiently distinguished himself to the Army’s satisfaction that he was delegated authority as a sergeant Thus, he probably lead a fireteam of at least 3-4 other men. (Having no military experience, this is what I concluded after some research. Please correct me if my conclusions are faulty.)
It’s not clear why Golden left the Army. His mother says he left after Desert Storm, which implies he left sometime after early 1991 (the ground campaign—Operation Desert Sabre—didn’t begin until February 24, 1991; and troops began withdrawing on March 10, 1991—Operation Desert Farewell). The church’s website says, Golden and his wife were “saved at Southside in 1989.” In 1990 Michael was born, and then “[t]hey were called into ministry and attended Southeastern College of the A/G from 1992 to 1996.” So, assuming Golden left the Army after five years of service, sometime after March or April of 1991, he must have very quickly enrolled in college.
(Normally I wouldn’t belabor a minor detail like this, but I suspect the time-line will probably come up in the trial. If Eric indeed served in the Gulf War, he was posted to Iraq after his conversion—after Michael’s birth—and then immediately after his discharge went straight to college. I suspect there will be a claim of PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Judge and jury, as you have heard from my expert witness, the psyche of a young, unformed man—this new father torn from his wife and baby, this new convert to faith—was incalculably shattered by the horrors of desert battle!” You can bet the defense will play that tune.)
So, both Eric and DeeDee attended Southeastern University for the next four years, while raising a toddler. A year after graduation, on January of 1997, Golden obtained his credentials; DeeDee, apparently, did not.
Over the next six years, Golden served at three churches: he served as an associate pastor at a new church plant, and as a youth pastor at two other churches. Finally, in the Spring of 2003, the Goldens returned to Southside Assembly of God where Eric joined the staff as youth pastor and director of Halogen Youth Ministries. In addition to his pastoral duties, Golden was also the church’s webmaster—explaining why the church website has gone largely unmodified since DeeDee’s murder, except for a brief statement.
Another year goes by.
In June 2004, Eric offered an undercover female detective $20 for oral sex. He was arrested for pandering. Apparently, the church never found out.
Another year goes by.
Eric strangles DeeDee in a late-night argument, leaving her with a broken neck and a lifeless body. He drives 13 miles west, carries her body half a mile into the forest, and digs a shallow grave.
After returning home, Golden must have wrestled with demons the whole weekend. One wonders, what did he tell Michael, his 15-year old son? How did he continue the deception through the whole day Friday, then Saturday? Did he go to church on Sunday? How did he act during worship? What did he say to those who asked about DeeDee? What did he say to Michael on Sunday morning?
Apparently, it was too much. He confessed to his brother-in-law, wrote a full letter of confession, and arrived at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office just before 1 pm. While he was on the way, Golden’s brother-in-law called the police to prepare them for Golden’s arrival. Once there, officers took him into custody, and he described where to look for DeeDee’s body. After searching several locations, she was finally found at 9:30 that night, buried in a field scattered with boars’ carcasses and bones.
For now, Eric is being held without bond until his court date on December 8. Michael is staying with his aunt. Neighbors, as usual, are stunned, never suspecting anything was wrong in the Golden house: “He seemed like a good man.”
And on Saturday, November 26, DeeDee Golden returned to the earth for a second time, but now with less haste, more love, and greater honor, being laid to rest in Kingston, Georgia, where her parents live.
I began researching this post when the news broke on Thanksgiving week. My first reaction was shock, then sorrow for their son, Michael, and sorrow for the Southside Assembly. I prayed. But I can’t get Michael’s pictures out of my head: he’s in several photos at the youth group’s photo archive on Yahoo, and he’s always smiling, seeming to enjoy himself, having a good time. How will this effect him? What terrible scars will he bear for the rest of his life? What unimaginable grief is he enduring right now? His mother’s life destroyed, his father’s life forfeit. What unnecessary shame is he suffering? How are his friends and fellow youth group members treating him? With compassion and steadfast friendship, I hope.
Then I thought of DeeDee’s parents, and their grief. She was still such a young woman, so full of promise, so apparently vivacious. Judging by the many photos with her and the youth group, there was always another young girl close by, arms entwined, big smiles illuminating faces, she seemed loved. Not only are her parents and family missing her, I’m sure the youth group is grieving too. Not to mention reeling from the anger, betrayal, and shock that their mentor and pastor is now a confessed murderer.
Then I considered the church family, their shock and grief, their shame in being paraded before the mainstream news media for being host to a man who would kill with bare-handed fury. They’ll wonder what they missed, they’ll second-guess their wisdom and hiring decisions, they’ll wonder how to counsel the bereaved when the grieving may well be struggling with anger and not having any trust for authoritarian ministry right now. I thought about the pastor, himself, Rev. Jack. C. Moon, who must have personally hired Golden, entrusting him with the care and feeding of his thriving youth group. What grief is he experiencing? Not only has he lost a beloved member of his church family, a protege under his wings is incarcerated and admittedly guilty. He’ll be second-guessing most of all: “Where did I go wrong? What didn’t I see? What warning signs did I miss or ignore? How could I have prevented this tragedy?”
And all of them will ask God, “Why?” Why does evil exist? Why take the innocent and leave the wrongdoer? Why let a man with fatal flaws serve in ministry without nudging somebody to look more closely? To ask the right questions?
Prayers must be sent up.
I discovered a devotional on the SSAG website, titled, How Do You Eat Fruit?, written by Eric Brian Golden.
It’s notable neither for its content nor creativity. But Golden’s language and choice of teaching metaphor have a chilling undercurrent of violence. This metaphor easily consumes a third of the devotional, and it seems written with greater focus than the entire rest of the piece. I’ll post the whole thing here for you to decide. But when I read it, I felt chills every time I read the word “slice” and “overkill.” (Emphasis mine.)
And, of course, I wonder about Eric Brian Golden. Where was his fatal flaw? Did he know it was within him? Did he struggle to contain his anger? Was he a crucible of molten violence waiting to be poured out? Did he express it in other, more private ways? Did DeeDee bear marks of abuse? Does Michael? Is Golden psychologically or neurologically compromised? I wonder, did the Desert War have a deleterious effect on him? Was he damaged beyond repair? Or was he already hungry for violence, and is that why he was drawn to the military?
And I wondered some more. There were flaws, cracks were already beginning to appear. Four different ministry positions in six years. For most adults in their 30s, this is not a good sign. But, then, Golden was a youth pastor: a position notoriously underpaid, stressful, and eager for new fish. Many youth pastors don’t last two years in any one position. So maybe there’s nothing there. But what about his military superiors? They made him an officer. How well did he lead? Did the soldiers in his unit suspect anything? What were his fitness reports like?
I also wonder, why was Golden paying for sex? Stupid question, I suppose. He paid for it because he wanted it and didn’t have the integrity to seek help. But, more to the point: was Golden already a “regular?” I suspect his arrest could not have been his first foray into illegal extramarital sex. And I suspect it was not his last. If it had been, he would have confessed to his wife and to his church, and he would’ve at the very least been placed on leave with his district for rehabilitation, required to undergo therapy/counseling, and strict accountability. This didn’t happen, so I next wonder whether his wife found out, finally, what was going on. Was this what they were fighting over? I suspect, by the time a minister with a lot to lose starts paying for oral sex on the street, he’s already well down the path of pornography addiction, stripper bars, and Internet porn and cybersex dalliances. Sin will out. It leaves its muddy footprints behind. And when it doesn’t get out, it escalates until it does.
For the past week or two there have been no new news stories on this event. DeeDee’s death is already fading from public thought, and the rapidly researched stories uncovered little that wasn’t readily accessible with a couple phone calls. Here’s what I wish the real journalists had done:
- Call Golden’s former church postings, find out why he left. Sure, they won’t reveal much for fear of media exposure and they’ll probably be pulled into the courtroom drama anyhow, but ask. If you don’t know where he worked, pull his credit history, figure it out. Call the district office, ask them for comment. Somebody who knew him will be willing to talk, if only to talk describe how great a person DeeDee was. Find that person
- Same goes for Golden’s college days. Find out how he performed as a student, how DeeDee fared as his husband, how cute Michael was as a toddler. Sure, again, the school won’t want to talk, but it shouldn’t be too hard to take a trip over to Classmates.com, which lists 272 of Golden’s classmates during his four years in college, and three professors. Set up a Classmates account, spend an hour sending a query to the most likely candidates (those graduating with Golden), and wait for a reply.
- Contact the Lakeland, Florida, police department and find out if they were called to any domestic disturbance reports at the Golden’s residence. Find out if Golden was arrested in Florida for pandering there. Find out if he was a model citizen without a single speeding ticket.
- Contact his and DeeDee’s Alabama high school. Talk to a teacher, talk to a classmate, talk to a neighbor.
- Contact the Army. File a Freedom of Information Act form with the FBI. Find out if Golden was discharged honorably? Did he comport himself well as a soldier and representative of America? Was he consorting with unsavory women even then, outside of his wife’s watchful eye?
And that’s just off the top of my head.
The Big Picture
Now, I’m not asking these questions out of some simple thirst for gossipy tidbits about a fallen brother and murdered sister. The bigger questions I really want answers to is how could a young man like this slip through a Bible College’s close-knit community without raising flags? How could he pass muster in the military without raising eyebrows? How could he slip into ministerial ranks, gain credentials, and be ordained with the laying on of hands without anybody delving into what really makes him tick? Golden was not some post middle-aged, lapsed, cynical minister feeding insecurities with sex. He was a young man already deep into a sexual addiction cycle with rage issues.
The Big Problem
There’s a problem with our churches sending folks into ministry too lightly, perhaps. A Bible College degree does not earn you a place in a pulpit, though many think it should. But I do not know of a single peer of mine from my bible college days who was denied credentials when they applied. Sure, there may have been some, but for the most part, my experience has been that if you show up with an A/G bible college degree in hand, if you know the right answers, and if you have a pastor backing you, you’re in.
The problem was articulated succinctly by poster, “Alpha Female,” on the Savannah Now message board forum linked to this news item. She said: “The worst people worm into leadership positions with frightening frequently.”
But there’s one area in A/G ministry where that is simply not the case. The applicants are carefully screened over a period of several months. Applicants must provide multiple references, both friends, family, and professional. Each reference is contacted and asked several probing questions, and confidentiality is assured. Each applicant is interviewed several times, at home and in the office. And if the applicant has a spouse and children, they are interviewed both together and individually by professionals trained to spelunk the caves of applicant’s souls. Each phone call and interview is transcribed (I used to transcribe them), folders are filed, references are followed up again with phone calls for clarification. Criminal backgrounds are checked. Yet more difficult questions are asked. Questions like: “How is your sex life with your spouse?” And “How frequently do you have sex?” And “Have you ever had sex with anyone other than your spouse?” Applicants and their family members fill out a battery of psychological tests. The tests are professionally administered, graded, and evaluated. The tests lead to more questions, and more clarifications. And all of it leads up to a recommendation to the committee that makes a final decision. And even then, the questions don’t end. The committee members get their shot too: “How do you know you are called to ministry?” And, “Describe your calling, and tell us when you first sensed you had a call.” And, “How have your gifts for ministry been confirmed?” And, “If we turned you down, what would you do?”
In this one area, the Assemblies of God goes to Herculean ends to accept only the healthiest, most stable, most obviously called and gifted applicants with clear integrity, and gifted for ministry. They must have a history, they must be transparent, and they must be unflinching in their willingness to submit to examination for suitability to the task.
I am talking about the Assemblies of God World Missions sending agency (formerly, the Assemblies of God Department of Foreign Missions).
I am not proposing that this extensive a battery of tests and examinations be undertaken for every ministerial applicant for ministry–the cost and delay would probably be too prohibitive. And the process itself is no guarantee. Many missionaries have cracked under the pressure in the field. Families have been ruined, missionaries have fallen, and crimes have been committed. I used to marvel at the process (I used to work in the DFM Word Processing department where I transcribed many of these confidential interviews and recommendations) because it seemed to me that while it may weed out the chaff, it probably discarded good candidates while allowing true psychopaths to run the gauntlet unscathed. But … but … I’ve also noticed that the Assemblies of God missionary teams are the most effective in the world. They are passionate, driven, and people of character. On the field, our missionaries are the envy of other sending agencies. I have to think that the grueling selection process (and subsequent, additional training and mentoring) is at least a part of that success.
Maybe Golden just “snapped,” to his and everybody else’s deep and shocked regret. Maybe what I suspect are warning signs are not the tip of the iceberg, but are, instead, the precipitating events that started this whole tragedy in motion. Maybe it’s impossible to know these things, and maybe it’s impossible to fix anything.
Maybe nothing’s broken at all. But I suspect otherwise. I love the Assemblies of God, I have no intention of changing. But stories like this leave me wondering if maybe we’re not minding the store like we ought to be. The self-employed pastor, autonomous church, congregational model of church ministry has much to recommend it.
But there is this, too: Easy credentials shatter lives.
From the Web
SouthSide Assembly of God: Our Staff
- PB and J: Pastor Brian and DeeDee
- Windows Media video: A one-minute excerpt of a sermon by Brian Golden
From the News
- Columbus’ Ledger-Enquirer: Police say youth pastor killed wife, buried her
- Savannah Morning News: Autopsy shows woman strangled to death — Eric Brian Golden is being held without bond (Registration required)
- WTOC channel 11: Neighbors React to Youth Pastor’s Arraignment (Includes video of confession)
- The Augusta Chronicle: Pastor in jail after slaying (Registration required)
- WTOC channel 11: Murder Suspect Arraigned
- WTOC channel 11: Church of Jailed Youth Pastor Issues Statement
Updated: “Update on Golden Murder“.
[tags]BlogRodent, Assemblies-of-God, Assembly-of-God, youth-pastor, murder, strangulation, ministerial-credentials, Assemblies-of-God-youth-pastor, Pentecostal-youth-pastor, Southside-Assembly-of-God, Eric-Brian-Golden, Brian-Golden, DeeDee-Golden, Deadra-Golden, Fort-Stewart, Georgia, Chatham-County, confession, Stone-Lake, Savannah, Army, Army-veteran, crime, violent-crime, domestic-abuse, manslaughter[/tags]
A similar tragedy happened a few years ago with Dr. Judy Brown, a former professor at Central Bible College in Springfield, MO. I remembered her preaching a few times in chapel and reading what she done was a tragedy.
Thanks, Paul, for the links to Justin Taylor’s articles. What a great example of the Christian blogosphere being a change agent.
I remember when that story broke. Once I got my mind wrapped around the complexities of the relationships involved, I was stunned. And, of course, I had similar questions at the time… how does a woman live and teach in a close-knit college community without rasing flags if her character was bent enough to lead this kind of behavior? I can see how a senior pastor could hide character flaws: senior pastors grow so insulated from accountable relationships that this is one of the primary “excuses” offered up by fallen pastors: “I was all alone, and had noone to talk to, to confess to, to seek help from.” That, alone is instructive. But in Brown’s case, it’s hard to see that a descent into lesbianism leading to attempted jealous murder could have happened in a short time-span. Surely the seeds were planted years and years before the sin bloomed into violence?
But if the seed was there long before, how could it not have been noticed and dealt with?
Are we so adapted to American “cocoon” insularity that we truly cannot know our leadership any longer?
We need submission and accountability in our churches. We need the hard questions. Our leaders need to be trained and called to live lives of transparency so their integrity can be maintained.
I will always remember when Jack Hayford spoke at a worship conference in Springfield, Missouri, in the late 90’s. He said he never travels alone–ever. And his traveling partner is always a male–if it is not his wife. He is never alone with a woman for any reason. He leaves no room in his life for misinterpretation and the appearance of sin, and by doing so, he lives transparently, and he removes many of the elements of temptation.
My presentation on Integrity on the Internet seems appropos to this discussion. We must live transparently. We must live in submission to one another. Accountability means nothing if we are not voluntarily and authentically submitted one to another.
This is very sad. Forgive my brief response; I feel this merits a much longer discussion. I can’t get past my consternation, the weight on my chest.
It is always disheartening, to say the least, when ministers unveil themselves not as shepherds but as wolves. I agree — the symptoms of the sin must surely have started long ago. I hope someone listens to this story, and the others like it, and changes how we ordain ministers, or how we keep them accountable over the long haul.
As a pastor’s daughter, I know well how when difficulty comes in the life of a minister, there is rarely anyone he or she can trust to turn to for help, confession, and guidance. The loneliness of such a life…
We need to get caught, all of us. We need our sin to find us out; we need others to keep us truthful. Getting caught may be painful, awkard, and embarassing, but it’s our only hope. How could we have been so blind?
Christ, catch me early, for I know I too am a sinner and capable of such a fall. And yes, comfort all those victims of your servants, such as they are.
The questions you ask are troubling, especially questions of background.
I think that there are more people in positions of church leadership who are in bondage to some kind of sin or another than we are willing to admit. I am not willing to excuse that, but I am willing to try to understand why that is. The answers become complex, though, because life is complex.
I know that in my own life, if I’m kept cooped up away from other people for too long, my thoughts turn inward and I start a running inner dialogue that never leads to good thoughts. I realize that, have gotten better as I have prayed that through, but I can’t always force interaction to happen, as much as I need it.
Sometimes people are just rotten and sometimes they become rotten because of repetitive circumstances they can’t seem to escape. Sometimes it is hard to flee temptation when your entire circumstance is nothing but that circumstance and it never seems to change.
I can’t speak for Golden, but I would not be surprised if he got trapped in some circumstance that he felt he could not flee. The number of things that went wrong in his life may have been legion, but for whatever reason, they culminated in this.
I’ve known a lot of youth ministers over the years who tanked. I’ve known some who were remarkable in their ability to not let anyone know they were going down in flames. People can hide just about anything.
Too often it is the Church that drives the final stake through these guys’ hearts, and they know that if they go to the church for help, they are just as likely to get blackballed as anything else. When this is all you’ve done and you don’t seem to be getting anyhwere, thinking that you can lose the little you have drives men to do desperate things.
Churches bear responsibility, too, for allowing the obviously damaged to go on. Looking the other way only hurts future victims.
Tangles sometimes only get untangled when the Gordian knot is painfully cut. Everyone hurts in the end. Sometimes that hurt is healing and sometimes it is not. In this case, the end is clear.
“He was a young man already deep into a sexual addiction cycle with rage issues.” Unless there’s more evidence besides what’s in your post, I think you’re making a big assumption. If we’re not careful we can get into the “resolve the mystery within an hour” TV show mentality.
It looks like to me that he just snapped. We all have that potential inside of us (Romans 7), and it’s by God’s grace that He helps most of us avoid that snapping point. I don’t want to consider the rage I would feel if someone hurt my family. Golden may have had anger issues, but he knew how to play the pastor game.
We all put on our happy faces and say “fine” whenever someone asks how we’re doing when we are in church. Pastors, in particular, feel extra pressure to do that, since others look to them when they are not “fine” and need a source of strength to lean on.
In particular, their employment is based on their “soundness” and stability, so it would be ruinous to their career to admit to being weak and unstable. The only sin that they can get away with is overworking. Leadership can be a very difficult row to hoe.
Maybe more extensive testing could have shown a risk of “snappage”, or some of Golden’s other problems that will come to the surface as his trial proceeds. It’s all hindsight now. While we would like to be able to weed out the “bad apples” with thorough testing, it still comes down to gut feel when somebody makes a hiring decision for a pastor.
Thanks, Bethany, for your comment about “getting caught.” Man, that is so true. I’ve been caught, and I’ve confessed before getting caught. Both are painful, and I thank God for both, but the healing that comes from confession is far sweeter. And you’re so right, ministry is a lonely, lonely job. And the minister’s family bears so much stress and burden. It’s certainly a call the family didn’t ask for.
Thanks, Dan, for the insight. And you’re absolutely right, the last place most ministers can turn is their own church. That’s why I’m a huge fan of building bridges to ministers in other denominations for friendship, support, and accountability.
I agree, Marc, thanks for keeping me honest.
We can’t solve this like armchair sleuths looking at secondhand evidence reported by less-than-forensically accurate newspaper reporting.
However, given the facts, it’s reasonable to assume we’ll find a pattern of behavior indicative of sexual addiction. I seriously doubt offering a woman on the street $20 for fellatio is a “gateway” sin to sexuality. There will be more than that found.
My biggest assumption is with “rage issue.” and the only evidence I have to on on here is strangulation and a broken neck (I assume the hyoid bone, not the spine itself). FBI criminal profiler Roy Hazelwood has written that “frontal manual strangulation is commonly associated with personalized anger” (“Dark Dreams” p 251). Further, strangulation is common enough in abuse situations that police responding to domestic disturbances actively watch for evidence of constricted breating, in case there has been any strangulation involved, which calls for immediate medical attention.
The fact that law enforcement gave up information about Golden’s past sexual pecadillo but did not comment on reports of domestic disturbance is interesting. I can’t prove anything based on the absense of evidence, but I will not be surprised if there are, indeed, rage control issues involved.
In the end, you do have to make a gut-check decision. And while it’s quite difficult to truly know anybody–even wives can be shocked at what their husbands have hidden from them–I still think we live our lives in such a way that even spouses are not transparent with each other. If spouses aren’t typically that transparent, how transparent is your worship leader to his associate pastor? How transparent is your associate pastor to the senior pastor? And who is your senior pastor voluntarily transparent to?
When you go to make your hiring decision, therefore, you are forced to make a gut decision because, truly, nobody in that guy or gal’s past will have been sufficiently exposed to your candidate to unequivocably, fully vouch for them. (That is, if they’re not afraid of legal repercussions for telling you too much. Another problem.)
And perhaps this exposes a weakeness in the congregational model. When a church fires a youth pastor, or “encourages him to move on,” there is not necessarily a disclosure about the reason for the termination to the next pastor down the line. As a result, you get serial pastors who are either always moving on, looking for the next big thing, or always running in to trouble, getting fired, or running into abusive senior pastors and boards, and getting abused before breaking down and quiting.
I wonder, if we were assigned to churches for a set period of time, people would have more opportunity to really get to know some of the people leading them, and there might be less opportunity for many pastors to fall to temptation.
Just a thought. I really shouldn’t be pretending to have answers: because I don’t. This whole issue just fills me with questions, sorrow, angst, and prayer.
Started to comment here last night, first out of the gate, but got sidetracked and couldn’t return until now. To my own way of thinking, I’ve got to ask “What makes us think there is a solution?” Sadly, men remain men. The Gospel was never about turning us into super saints and the big issue here, of course, remains: a young woman is dead. Should the Church do what it can to minister to its members? Surely we should; and recognizing ANYthing yet possible of any of us is a start. What I am glad to see among those here is a spirit yet able to bring Christ unto the situation. We each pay, in one way or another, for that which we do, but too often it seems the Body too eager to kill what it does not understand. My two cents, anyway. This site has been a good find for me, Rich. I really appreciate the spirit you show in all things……….
I appreciate the kind words, Jim. But the kudos go to the fellow posters and commenters, too. They’re what makes this a dialog!
You’re right, nothing Golden did is out outside the bounds of possibility for any of us. Gorden MacDonald, who wrote the brilliant book “Reordering your Private World,” after his own public confession and fall from grace, says that the moment we think we are safe from any given temptation or sin, that is exactly when we should be most on guard. There is no sin that we aren’t each one capable of.
That’s a good reminder.
You asked, “What makes us think there is a solution?” Hmm. Good question. I’m not sure I’ve thought about this in terms of a solution because I’m still not even sure what the real problem is. We can’t slouch toward solutions until we’ve uncovered the real problem, and that’s what my questions are aiming toward.
I wouldn’t want to shake my head in wonder and just conclude that there’s nothing to learn from this. That simply seems like defeatism to me.
It seems many in the church have taken this position about marriage and divorce (a whole different topic, sorry, but I’m using it to illustrate a point). It’s easy to look at a 50% divorce rate in the church, mirroring the divorce rate outside the church, and conclude “We’re just sinful people, that’s all.” I would want to look at the families that ended in divorce and examine them, look at other families that don’t end in divorce and examine them.
What’re the difference? And are the differences predictive?
Dr John Gottman, at the University of Washington, has done this. He set up some “love labs” where couples came to spend a weekend and be observed. These couples were connected to telemetry devices to record blood pressure, physiological and emotional arousal, heart rates, blood pressure, temperature, etc. The couples are on film the whole time (excepting the bathroom), and conversations are transcribed for later study. The couples are followed for the next 9 years.
Over the years, Gottman has refined his observations into a set of predictors for divorce. Gottman can tell you in a one-hour interview, with 87 percent accuracy, which couples will divorce within six years.
Gottman says, “The happiest couples are speaking almost in one voice because they are so tuned into each other’s wants and desires. These people know the value of their partner in their life and know they are not out to get them. It is really beautiful music. With the unhappiest couples there is no symmetry. There is no respect for each other. Individuals are really nasty with each other and they struggle to find positive things to say about each other or the relationship.”
Gottman has identified what he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which invariably show up during conflict in marriages headed for divorce:
On the other hand, he discovered that the following attributes are key ingredients leading to successful marriages:
Now, that being said, we still haven’t “solved” the problem of divorce, but Gottman’s observations get us a heck of a lot closer to dealing with the problem and possibly preventing a few tragedies.
What longitudinal studies have ever been done to examine rates of ministerial failure? None, I’m sure. But, it would be nice if we had such a study to at least begin identifying what observable behaviors are predictors of failure. (Sure, we all have common-sense ideas of what those behaviors are, but that’s not as valuable as a study with real predictive power.)
Wisdom never hurts, Rich. I’ve got no problem with doing whatever we can to reduce the casualties. One of the four Biblical verses that refer to our being saved “by”, by the way is in Romans and directs us toward hope. In regard to your divorce statistics, my wife and I have been married over 41 years now and are complete opposites. She is quite sarcastic in her manner at times; I am just as bull-headed. We “survived” because we so desired. We have a marriage today because of Christ. Peace, buddy…….
I’ve updated this story with the latest at:
“Update on Golden Murder”
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After hearing of this horrible occurence, it seemed I really needed to get some things off of my chest. Hopefully, it will be of some help to those who can relate to my point of view and offer a new light as to what Grace is really about.
I grew up in the AG church. I went to Southeastern College for two and a half years. I struggled with personal issues while at the school that I never had anyone to talk to about. I struggled with personal issues while growing up that I never had anyone to talk to about. Looking back, I realize now that there was always an extreme point on how we are supposed to look, act and feel. If we didn’t fall into that category, then we probably were not saved.
It is a scary and lonely place to be when you think that you are the worst person on the face of the planet and no one else shares the burden that you share. It is very easy for a while to put on a happy face even though you are rotting on the inside. But, your question may be the same as mine was. If I am saved and I have the Spirit inside me, why do I always feel this way?
Confession is the key to forgiveness for a believer. It is a humbling experience because you must show the world that you are not what you have built your reputation to be. I know of many instances where people at Southeastern College were kicked out of the school for confessing their sin to a professor, a counselor or even other students. This didn’t happen to me but would have if I had ever let my guard down long enough to spit out some of my deepest darkest secrets…secrets that plagued me, mainly because I had no one that I could trust. The students and my peers often referred to the school as a Christian Bubble, as if we were some kind of fortress that no one was welcome in and where we were not allowed out. (I actually almost confessed once, but chickened out because I knew the horror story that awaited me. So, I made up some weird story that made no sense to me or to the counselor, who happened to be the pastoral counselor for the school and the person who later kicked out 2 other people due to the some of the same problems that I was facing and almost confessed to myself.)
There are several roots to these problems. The first, which I believe to be the most important, is that a lot of church teaching neglects to tell usthat we are all equal. Equally saved and equally capable of any heinous act that has ever been conceived in the minds of the “worst” of the human race. Many people say that they believe this to be true, but also believe in their hearts that they are not capable of murder, adultery or any of the “worst” sins. So, in essence they believe that they are somehow better than the people who have committed such crimes. This is proven by the act of Jesus when he told the Pharisees to cast the first stone at the adultress. If you have ever thought about killing someone, you are a murderer.
The second root stems from the first. If you start to think you would never be capable of these sins, you start to think you are better than this person and that person. It gets out of control and suddenly you are better than everyone else. And why? Because you are saved. You are more and more perfect…closer to perfection.
The only reason we are closer to perfection is because we are one day closer to death, which is where the glorification will take place.
The point of this rant is: We are all in a heap of trouble. We are each the in the same boat. Mr. Golden was always just as much of a muderer as any serial killer or you or I. It is not a matter of solving the problem before it goes wrong. It is a matter of realizing that he is still loved by the people around him because that is how Jesus loves him. We need to realize that the facade that the church puts up needs to be broken down. We need to show everyone that we are just like everyone else. We need to be no better than anyone else.
We should have all been kicked out of that school. Everyone there that doesn’t get kicked out just has a better way of hiding what their sins really are.
The problem happened with the apple on the tree, but that is only the first half of the Bible.
Sorry if this doesn’t make enough sense. If you have any questions for me, please make a post. It is really late here and I am relatively drousy. I even want to spend more time working on this, but I think it is time to go to bed.
Joshua, thank you for your considered, well-thought, and brilliant post. It is an important contribution to the dialog.
I only want to quibble with your comments about equality. While I accept, believe, and affirm what Jesus said about the sinfulness of both hatred and murder, we shouldn’t go beyond what Christ actually said.
See Matthew 5:21 (from the Beatitudes):
I cannot read this passage in such a way as to equate hatred with murder. Jesus says that both hatred and murder make you subject to judgment, but he says nothing about the severity of the judgement for each sin.
Jesus is addressing the moral complacency of his day. Whereas the Law was meant to not only teach morality, but to also teach grace by revealing the inadequacy of human willpower and discipline to satisfy God, the religious leaders of Christ’s day apparently thought that adhering to a strict interpretation of the law was sufficient. Christ is saying, no, it’s not sufficient, there is more required: you must worship not only in body, but in spirit, and in truth.
John, writing in 1 John, makes it clear that there are varying types of sin (some lead to spiritual death, some don’t), and passages regarding the nature of judgment in Hell reveal that there will be varying levels of punishment for those who are sent there for eternity.
That being said, I appreciate your post and agree: no sin is not far from my grasp. I also agree with your insights regarding confession. This resonates with my contention that we need to lead intentionally transparent lives. It’s not enough to have a “subordinate” role with someone we’re “accountable to.” We need to proactively confess our sins and live transparently. The failure to do so is, frankly, a sin. There are enough NT commands to live this way that this should be clear.
I appreciate your response, but I don’t understand your quibble. Maybe Mr. Golden’s punishment is here on earth. Maybe it is better to receive punishment here on earth for the things we do, rather than to be taken to the ultimate judge for all of the things hidden from creation.
I also think that something we have all noticed in this situation is…that the sin of murder that has been committed started somewhere else as a seed and grew into the more apparent sin. So, which one of these is the greater sin? I believe that Jesus did not say whether one would be punished more or less severely, because there really is no human understanding of the severity of God’s wrath. And, not only that, but Jesus is the only way that any of us are forgiven. For example, the man on the cross next to Him was a murderer, but was forgiven and this is where I draw my equality through Grace.
I have a murderous heart just like Mr. Golden and so does anyone else that has ever had jealousy or envy in his heart for another man. I have not actualized a murder, but I will be judged just like Mr. Golden. What I am trying to say is…we have no way to compare ourselves to another person, because if we do…we are in essence, judging ourselves and the other person. Mr. Golden will receive his punishment, as we all will, if punishment is due. But, we all have hope in the Grace given to us through Jesus. This does not excuse our actions, but true Grace gives us the desire NOT to do evil rather than the ability not to do it.
This is what the entire book of Romans is about. The law is not enough. Jesus fulfilled the Law by overcoming its condemning power. He has given us, the wretched murderers, the ability to be forgiven and to be seen in the Father’s eyes as sons and daughters. The Law condemns. Grace frees and makes us equals as brothers and sisters in Christ. I am not denouncing morality, I am just saying that is frustratingly impossible because of our inability to fulfill it ourselves.
I went to a Christian school, too, so I can relate somewhat to your story. It’s heartbreaking, though, absolutely heartbreaking. One of my best college memories, one of the most significant, turning-point conversations of my life, is the Tuesday afternoon a couple friends and I sat around and slowly confessed our regrets, sins, struggles. We even put blankets over our heads (dubbed “shields of anonymity”), so we wouldn’t have to look each other in the eye — testimony both to our shame and our goofiness. My life changed when I confessed, pulled the blanket off my head and found my friend smiling at me, saying, “Me too.”
What is whispered in the closet will be shouted from the rooftops, or so the Bible says. Because of those kind of verses (“Be sure your sin will find you out” is another terror) I had often been nervous for the end of time, the day of Judgement. I knew I would come out all right, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. But the long confession beforehand, it frightened me. If God has forgiven and forgotten, why must I reveal everything? Jesus, I knew, would love and forgive me, but the others Ã¢â‚¬â€ my friends and family would hear me too, and I could see their horrified faces already. Sure, I would be forgiven, but that seemed a small recompense for the shame of everybody having to know.
So when my friend said, “Me too,” it seemed to me that the great cloud of witnesses had heard me, smiled, and confessed in heavenly chorus, “Me too.” I think you’re on to something, Joshua. We should all be kicked out of school.
We, the church, are afraid. We’re afraid of being found out, and we’re afraid also, and sometimes for good reasons, of the other option, “tolerance,” and the acceptance it spreads, of the swath of gray it produces. The fact that we may also be guilty of murderous thoughts does not make Goldman less sinful, less horrendous, less wrong. It only makes us less right. The challenge, at least to me, is to retain a passion for holiness without falling into self-righteousness, to accept every sinner without soft-pedaling sin.
The same friend who said, “Me too,” also used to have a favorite mantra: “IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m okay, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re okay, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all okay.” Which is not a bad mantra as mantras go, except it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t true. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more true to say, I am not okay and you are not okay, but Jesus loves and forgives us, and we love each other in the strength of His love, and that love is better than okay. That love is very, very good.
That is exactly what I am trying to get across, and you put it so well.
I really had a hard time understanding Grace this way for such a long time because I was so taught in the A/G philosophy of backsliding. But, when I read Romans and Galatians especially the last 2 chapters of Galatians, it is the only way that Grace can be understood.
The thing about Grace is…it is not a get out of jail free card. You can’t just use it to do whatever you want. If the Spirit is in you, you will try to be moral and you will want to follow the law, but the truth is that you cannot follow it. Some people find it hard to grasp that we, as humans, think once you have “been saved” you don’t sin anymore. This is because they are still trying to earn their salvation. Our salvation is not earned, it is a gift, and it is hard to accept gifts without feeling as though you need to return the favor or do something in exchange.
When it doesn’t work out, as in Mr. Golden’s case, we automatically assume that a person has lost favor in God’s eyes. But, he was struggling with his flesh, as we all do, and only God knows if he was ever a believer at all. If he is a believer, he is probably in the worst place he could possibly be right now because he probably thinks he is no longer worthy of God’s love. What he must realize is, that he never was worthy of God’s love. None of us are. We are all in the same boat and it is a sinker. If he was never a believer, he is in the worst place right now because he is probably in a huge pit of despair. The thing is, now that it is done, there is nothing anyone can do to change it. But it is out and he is broken and that is just where God meets us…when we are broken. There is no pride left. There is no facade. There is no reputation. He is probably really alone and God can work wonders in those situations.
It is a sad thing that he murdered his wife. It is a tragedy. We live in a tragically fallen world. But Jesus came to save the murderers, the liars, the cheats, and the adulterers. It is much easier for Him to save those who recognize their sin. The people I worry most about, are the people who think they are alright, good, upstanding citizens. Deacons fro 25 years with a perfect life (on the outside). They think they are alright. They do not recognize their sin and therefore cannot be forgiven of it. They hide it from themselves, others and Jesus until, as in Mr. Golden’s case, it blows up in their face. I have seen it a hundred times. I have lived it and it is a vicious cycle. You think you are alright for a while and then BOOM…you murder your wife because it is all out of control.
When the church decides to stop being so Pharisaical…when the church decides to realize that it hurts as bad as Joe Sinner…when the church begins to love in this sort of fashion and put aside its pride and understand when its brothers and sisters fall…God will really move in the church. Real ministers will move into ministry because all of the people will see that the ministers are sinners too. Congregations will recognize that the ministers are being forgiven and the people will find forgiveness too. Love will prevail.
I don’t expect that this will happen because the church is made up of people, hurting sick people. People who are blind to the truth that they are in just the same hole that Mr. Golden is in. When we realize that…we find true freedom in the Gospel because we become once again, the people who realized that we needed something to save us in the first place. That state of being is not going to change until we are Glorified and feasting at the table with the Father Himself.
Sorry to be such a windbag,
I’ve added an update to this story here:
Latest on Golden Murder
I am an ordained A/G pastor.
I’ve been looking into the emergent church stuff, and came across this weblog.
I have deep concerns about the emergent movement and the A/G’s involvement in this. I bring this up here, because many of the failures we see should not be a surprise to anyone who will look into the scriptures to see the problem with mankind. The heart of man is wicked, without exception. God will judge the world in (His) righteousness. God will destroy all workers of lawlessness by casting them into the Lake of Fire. Jesus taught this often when He preached. Unless we repent of our rebellion towards the Almighty God, and trust in Jesus Christ we all will perish. As a movement, we have in general moved away from the simple Gospel message.
Why are there A/G ministers who are adulterers, homosexuals, murders, liars, and thieves? Did I mention blasphemers (Dan Barker)?
I submit we have moved away from the Truth. We ignore the Word of God, and give ourselves to emotional experiences that are really rooted in self-centered pleasures. The Gospel that brings life calls to the wicked sinner and says, â€œRepent for the kingdom of God is at hand.â€ God hates sin! And He doesnâ€™t separate sin from the sinner (you know the saying, hate sinâ€¦ love the sinner). God is patient, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. Remember the days of Noah? Only eight (8) people lived through the flood. God hasnâ€™t changed. He will destroy sinners with intense heat. How many of you have heard your A/G pastor preach that lately? Yet, there is good news. The Father gave His Son. The Bible says it pleased God to crush Jesus. It pleased Him, because Jesus died to save wicked sinners! Salvation is found only in Christ Jesus alone.
Yet, we are concerned with adopting a message to reach a perverted culture. Our zeal for multicultural, yuppie appeal has lead to compromise in â€œourâ€ Gospel message. We so much want to be the cutting edge Pentecostal â€“ Protestant â€“ Mega-church that we dumb down the message and with arms wide open we embrace the love of money. I submit God hasnâ€™t changed and the message hasnâ€™t changed, but we have. We have moved away from the Truth, and have perverted ourselves with humanism.
Again, I am an ordained A/G pastor. I am 29 years old. I graduated from Trinity Bible College (an A/G College). And I am asking what are we going to do?
Greg, thanks for your thoughtful post, and I think I tend to agree with you that, in general, many pulpiteers are not preaching the message we have received in the Gospel. However, I wonder, which came first? The watered-down message, or the failure to seek spiritual renewal and transformation?
What I see in the NT is a call to personal transformation. Far too often we call for a decision to accept Christ and his Lordship without informing seekers what it is they are really deciding to do. In fact, Christ’s Lordship is too frequently left out of the picture altogether. We are doing nobody a favor by promoting what is colloquially called “Easy Believism.”
The condition of the Church today (all churches, not merely the A/G, other Pentecostals and Charismatics, or Evangelicals–the whole Church), as I see it, is this endemic failure to promote spiritual transformation. We bring people to believing faith and seem to leave them there, without completing the circuit and bringing them to believing obedience as well. Paul tells us that we are to be living sacrifices, that we are to transformed and our minds renewed. We fail to absorb and meditate on the Scriptures. We fail to seek his face. We fail to respond in obedience and we fail to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Christ. We come to faith and are then left to our own devices with our spiritual sustenance coming from mass media rather than the Word–which is no sustenance at all.
How can a church culture which is not transformed hope to recognize and ordain ministers from within our ranks who are transformed? Once we have accepted spiritual blinders ourselves, we cannot but pick and ordain fellow blind-men to lead us. Popularity, networking skills, good looks, and well-received communication style become the top indicators of ministerial “talent” rather than selecting godly men and women full of the Holy Spirit.
In Bible College, I recall the top concern many of my peers had about the girls they were romantically interested in: was she interested in marrying a minister or not–“What’s your degree?” was the litmus test for finding a ministerial complement to their own plans. Concerns about faithfulness, spiritual disciplines, prayer, devotion, and Biblical literacy were far off the radar. If a girl could sing, she was golden. Who cared if she could pray?
A sure recipe for disaster.
Thanks for posting.
Yes, Rich… that is it. Transformation. Jesus said, you must be born again. Godly sorrow over the wickedness of our hearts leads to repentance.
Does this message promote godly sorrow:
Come to Jesus and He will give you the abundant life. You will find your ultimate satisfaction in Him. You will find your purpose and your place in this world. Just come to Jesus to taste what life was meant to be. Just pray this prayer with me and you will begin to find meaning in this life.
This is the hype. This is the appeal. But is it the Gospel? What would cause godly sorrow from this type of message? Does this message communicate the dark, wicked, rebel nature of the human heart?
God has given us the Truth. Jesus magnified the Law in the Sermon on the Mount to show us how our transgressions have separated us from the Holy God.
As I reflect on the character and nature of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures, I see the God of creation revealed in great power and majesty. His Word causes me to tremble and to pray for mercy. Praise be to God who has showed us His mercy through His Son Jesus. Godly sorrow comes as we reflect on God’s standard of righteousness and our total rebellion toward that standard. A proper response to this reveletion is, “God have mercy on me a sinner.”
This is what transformation is: when we see that we are wicked rebels before a holy God, and He offers recouncilation through His Son, and we respond in worship–complete surrender that dies to self-centeredness and lives for the glory of Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from the power of sin and death.
We see many today in our fellowship who believe in Jesus, yet they are self-centered & materistic. Belief is simple. God is. A fool says, “there is no God.” Surrender and trust to the Lord of Lords is transformation.
God bless you,
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You asked the question: “…. Why let a man with fatal flaws serve in ministry without nudging somebody to look more closely? To ask the right questions?”
I am currently in the Army and a graduate of the same school Brian Golden attended. I can tell you that both the Army and the ministry cannot filter those who are conflicted in their hearts from joining up, but life events will eventually shake out those that are not serving with a steadfast heart; like chaff. Three of the main problems that I see with those that enter the ministry is that there is a severe lack of mentoring, financial support, and that many serve in ministry functional areas that they have no business being in. The military sometimes draws people who are searching for an established disciplined way of life. The same goes for many who are “called” into the ministry. They were really looking for a purpose and a disciplined way of life. In both cases, it is relatively easy to be promoted to the first echelon of responsibility. For Eric Golden, he met the requirements for the Army to be a first line supervisor or Sergeant (Non-commissioned officer — NCO). Then he changes to another complete cultural lifestyle and vocation and commits to the ministry, where he is provided the position of Youth minister — a first echelon of responsibility in the Church.
To answer your question, I will ask another question: Why do we put inexperienced ministry leaders in charge of our youth, who are the most conflicted group of people needing guidance?
We were neighbors of the Goldens in North Carolina in 1998/1999. Brian was still active duty and I think an E7 and was transferred to Georgia if I’m not mistaken.
They were a happy average couple, always smiling and laughing. They were good parents to their son Michael, my daughter’s best friend.
There was no excessive drinking, no fighting or arguing (we lived next door). They displayed love and affection toward each other, with healthy displays of physical attraction. Brian showed no interest in any other female, young or old. Meeting them at the pool in our complex was an almost everyday occurence.
Maybe it was accidental, and Brian panicked in trying to cover it up. Bottom line is he did admit to it and is serving his time. As far as sexual addiction, he’s no different than a lot of men. A lot of good men who have found internet porn an attractive vehicle. And, who knows if the incident with the police officer was the first or if it was coerced, and it doesn’t matter and has no bearing on the outcome of a typical alcohol-fueled argument between spouses. Whatever Brian’s sexual preferences were, that part of this matter is nobody’s business. Again, alot of good men find any reason to look at the perversions found on the internet, married or not.
I would put my energies toward supporting the rest of the Golden family, and supporting yourselves and try to be good people. No throwing stones – 98% of American households have atleast one computer.