“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ says the Lord.’ – Jeremiah 29:8-9
A few assertions to start out with:
One. When a man is removed from the ministry, it is an ineluctably public matter. Whether he was in the right or in the wrong, whether or not anyone beyond the circle of his parish happens to know of it, his removal is a qualitatively public event simply by dint of what the Holy Ministry is: the office which Christ instituted for the public preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments (cf. Augsburg Confession V, XIV). This is not a utilitarian valuation. It is not a commentary on how helpful or unhelpful it would be for an innocent or guilty pastor who has been unjustly or justly removed from his post. This is a statement regarding what is. The true Holy Ministry is public. Yet so, too, are the crude DIY facsimiles of it which dot the landscape of American sectarianism, whether their operators like it or not. There is no such thing as a “private ministry.” Mind you, “public” does not necessarily mean “widely known”, even though the two may coincide.
Two. When a pastor falls into grave sin, he is judged more strictly than a layman. His sin bears greater consequences coram mundo (before the world). This is not so much an assertion as it is a reminder, as Holy Scripture is unequivocal on this point (cf. Matthew 18:6; I Timothy 3:2-5; I Timothy 5:19-20; James 3:1; Titus 1:7-10).We saw this illustrated recently when the former mega-church Presbyterian (PCA) pastor Tullian Tchividjian publicly admitted to adultery, stepped down from his post, and stepped out of the public eye. How public of a matter was it? As public as it needed to be. In the case of a “celebrity pastor” like Tchividjian, this meant a story in the Washington Post. Tchividjian actually make a public confession (and, rather generously, made one for his wife, too), stepped down, and stepped aside. Well, he stepped aside for a few months— now he’s back on staff at a different church as a mission developer or some suchlike; perhaps for old times’ sake, his Twitter handle is still @PastorTullian, and he’s jonesing for the spotlight once again. I could say more about all of that, but it is not my direct concern, so I will refrain for the time being— other than to say that any man who can write such words (see photo caption) seriously and without the slightest feeling of irony clearly suffers from an Elijah complex. He needs your prayers, not your fandom.
Three. When an unordained “Lutheran” pseudo-pastor falls into grave sin, he should be judged with an even greater degree of severity on account of his “running without being sent” in the first place. Coram mundo, folks. God’s verdict of “not guilty” spoken to repentant sinners in Christ is actually beside the point. (Also, if you think that it’s impossible for the forgiveness of sins to ever be “beside the point”, then you are most certainly part of the problem— see Luther on the importance of distinguishing between earthly and heavenly justice.) You want publicity and global internet clout? Then you’ll take all that goes with it, like it or not.
Filling in some blanks
You may recall that in January of this year I posted a piece here entitled “From Christianity Today, 1995: ‘Should Adulterous Pastors Be Restored?'” In that piece I related the following information about my wife’s former “pastor”:
As some readers of this blog may know, my wife went to an “Independent Lutheran church” whose “pastor” (he was never ordained) ended up having an affair with a parishioner whom he had been counseling. This affair, as with so many like it, began with emotional entanglement and culminated in adultery. Thanks be to God, the fellow stepped down from his post and was taken back by his wife. And I wish that I could tell you that that’s more or less the denouement of the story— that he has long since accepted that he cannot be a pastor; that he has recognized that it would be improper for him to set himself up as a teacher; that he now quietly rejoices in Christ’s forgiveness while doing the hard and unglamorous work of mending his broken family; that he is living out his vocations of husband, father, and layman at a different church. Sadly, though, that is not the case. Quite the opposite— after a brief time-out, this fellow went on to manipulate the aftermath of his adultery so masterfully that he not only got himself reinstated in his post at the very same church in less than a year’s time, but throughout the course of it all— and by keeping the details of his disgrace rather vague— he became heir-apparent to a massive “radical grace” evangelical para-ministry…and then heir in fact and in deed when that para-ministry’s erstwhile leader confessed to adultery and stepped…slightly diagonally downward and to the left. (Make your own inferences regarding whether this is truly ironic or truly apropos.)
Oh, and he blackmailed the parishioner with whom he had committed adultery. An interesting coup de radical grace.
At the time of my writing the foregoing paragraphs, I had been given to understand that persons of some influence and standing in the Lutheran Church were going to be testifying publicly about this man’s actions before a certain date, such that there was no need for me to publicly say or write more than what I had already said and written.
I am very sad to say, though, that nothing of the sort happened, and so it turns out that my reticence, and that of others, was for naught. Indeed, I am now quite convinced that close to two years’ reticence on this matter has not only been for naught, but for evil. Since April of 2014, my silence on this matter, and that of others, has been costly. It has been wrong. I pray that God would forgive me for this error in judgment, and that He would forgive me if any of what I here write is spurred by a sinful desire for revenge rather than a desire for justice coram mundo. I am a sinner, so I know that this is unavoidable, in fact. Lord, have mercy.
The TL;DR version:
It really has come to this: I am availing myself of the civil freedom of the press in order to testify against this sick and evil man. Not because I want to— disbelieve this if you wish— but because at this point I have to.
I will freely acknowledge that ordinarily it would not be my job to be a whistleblower, because ordinarily (and God is a God of order, ordinances, and ordination) such depredation and wickedness as I have described is curtailed and dealt with by the episcopacy, i.e., by the paternal oversight and discipline of bishops, or by the presbytery, i.e., through fraternal admonition and discipline of brother pastors. But what we are dealing with here is a fundamentally disordered situation. We are so far beyond ordinary at this point that it’s almost comedic. Almost, but not quite. “Self-satire” would be an apt description.
The man whose ongoing wickedness and deception I alluded to in my alluded-to post is named Daniel Emery Price. You may have recently heard of Price, as his “Christ Hold Fast” para-ministry organization is growing in popularity, even moreso now in the wake of their recent conference, which featured clergy from the LCMS and other Lutheran churches.
Mark and avoid this man and all who associate with him. Laymen, warn your pastors; pastors, warn your parishioners. Do not be taken in by the “awww shucks, I’m just a humble flickering wick, I know what it means to be an outsider, we’re all just broken people, the haters just hate me because I preach grace” shtick. He will spin just the right amount of emo “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” melodrama, but only as much as will make him appear sympathetic and “on your level”, not so much that people will realize that he’s a monster.
For some time now Price and his toadies have been going around insisting that he has been “called back” to the congregation at which the scandal took place— Trinity NWA (that’s “Northwest Arkansas”, just to be clear). This claim is pure signaling and a deluded attempt to save face. Anyone with firsthand involvement in the scandal of the past two years will attest to this, as will any of the former members who have left this manipulative sociopath’s church.
Daniel Price never was, is not now, and (pray God) never will be a regularly called (rite vocatus) minister in any Lutheran synod. He is not a pastor. He is an impostor, a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, and a menace.
This, my friends, is why we have synods. It’s perhaps not often that you pray before going to bed, “thank you, God, for Lutheran synods.” But tonight, you may want to consider doing that very thing.
“After men begin to be ungodly, that is, do not fear God and do not believe God, but despise God, His Word, and His ministers, the result is that they fall from the true doctrine into heretical ideas, which they teach, defend, and adorn. Moreover, the world regards such sins as the height of piety; those who perpetrate them are praised as the only religious, godly, and righteous men, as the church and the children of God. Men are incapable of passing judgment on sins against the First Table. Afterwards those despisers of God fall into awful sins like adultery, theft, murder, and other sins that come under the Second Table.” — Blessed Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis , LW/AE 2:7
What about the Eighth Commandment?
It will invariably be alleged (as it has been already) that blowing the whistle on Price constitutes breaking the eighth commandment. So let’s talk about that. First, let’s review what the Small Catechism says:
What is the Eighth Commandment?
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
If we feel the need for additional exposition here, our first recourse is to the Large Catechism. Commenting on the Eighth Commandment in the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther writes the following:
Christ teaches: “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” So he whom it concerns is always to be treated with personally, and not to be spoken of without his knowledge. But if that do not avail, then bring it publicly before the community, whether before the civil or the ecclesiastical tribunal. For then you do not stand alone, but you have those witnesses with you by whom you can convict the guilty one, relying on whom the judge can pronounce sentence and punish. This is the right and regular course for checking and reforming a wicked person. But if we gossip about another in all corners, and stir the filth, no one will be reformed, and afterwards when we are to stand up and bear witness, we deny having said so. Therefore it would serve such tongues right if their itch for slander were severely punished, as a warning to others. If you were acting for your neighbor’s reformation or from love of the truth, you would not sneak about secretly nor shun the day and the light. (LC I.279-283)
This is a sobering warning to and judgment upon those who gossip about the sins of others and meddle in private affairs which do not concern them. As something of an aside, it also betrays a significant difference between Luther’s day, when civil adjudication still recognized natural and divine law and enforced the Decalogue, and ours, in which the civil code is based on majoritarian social-contracts loosely moored to a “rights-based” ethical framework. In any case, what Luther goes on to say is often overlooked, yet it is of equal importance:
All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it, you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judging or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it. (op. cit., 284)
I daresay that one’s understanding of the Eighth Commandment— or of any locus of doctrine, for that matter— is not helped here by a minimalist gloss of Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism. Put another way, any glosses on Luther’s explanations in the Small Catechism which functionally ignore, negate, or exclude what he teaches in the Large Catechism are actually erroneous. This seems to happen a lot with the eighth commandment. The Rev’d Jody Walter (LCMS) put it well some years ago in this blog post:
Over the last twenty plus years…I have heard one screed on the Eighth Commandment after the other. But what is always missed is that the commandment cuts both ways. We are to bear true witness. That means we are to call evil, well… evil. Sometimes the best construction we can legitimately put on something is to explain that is a public sin. The Eighth Commandment is given to protect people’s reputations from false attack. But it is also given so that we can warn God’s people when a wolf is in their midst. In the end what is most important is the truth. As St. Paul says, “Love… rejoices with the truth.” (I Corinthians 13:4-6) So any attempt to use the Eighth Commandment to suppress the truth turns the command into a cloak which covers evil— and is, ultimately, unloving. (emphases mine)
The matter at hand is sadly yet truly a case-in-point for all of this.
Adultery, blackmail, death-threats, & manipulation
The scandal which began— or at least became visible— in April of 2014 was not just that a pastor committed adultery with one of his parishioners. This is neither uncommon (sadly), nor newsworthy, nor the unforgivable sin. However, the issue with Price is by no means just that he committed adultery— though his adultery certainly disqualifies him from serving as a pastor. There’s quite a bit more to it, as I wrote earlier. Moreover, there are still more details which I did not disclose earlier which now bear mentioning, such as the fact that in the immediate aftermath of his adultery, Price threatened to kill one of the men who was (somewhat witlessly) trying to help the congregation, rocked as it was by everything that had just happened. And, again, six months after stepping down, Price blackmailed his victim, whom he had been “counseling” for over a year prior to their tryst.
My use of the term “victim” here is neither rhetorical nor political, but reflective of the legal reality, per Arkansas state law (Subchapter 1. General Provisions: § 5-14-126: “Sexual assault in the third degree”). Read and mark well the following:
(a) A person commits sexual assault in the third degree if the person:
(1) Engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity with another person who is not the actor’s spouse, and the actor is:
(A) Employed with the Department of Correction, Department of Community Correction, Department of Human Services, or any city or county jail, and the victim is in the custody of the Department of Correction, Department of Community Correction, Department of Human Services, or any city or county jail;
(B) Employed or contracted with or otherwise providing services, supplies, or supervision to an agency maintaining custody of inmates, detainees, or juveniles, and the victim is in the custody of the Department of Correction, Department of Community Correction, Department of Human Services, or any city or county jail; or
(C) A mandated reporter under § 12-18-402(b) or a member of the clergy and is in a position of trust or authority over the victim and uses the position of trust or authority to engage in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity; or
(2)(A) Being a minor, engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity with another person who is:
(i) Less than fourteen (14) years of age; and
(ii) Not the person’s spouse.
(B) It is an affirmative defense under this subdivision (a)(2) that the actor was not more than three (3) years older than the victim.
(b) It is no defense to a prosecution under this section that the victim consented to the conduct.
(c) Sexual assault in the third degree is a Class C felony.
Price’s sexual misconduct was not merely adulterous, but constituted third-degree sexual assault in the State of Arkansas. Read the bolded sections as many times as you need to until it clicks.
In these despondent times when public morality seems like it’s going down to the toilet, it’s easy to forget/it may surprise you to learn that much of what is immoral is in fact still illegal. In twenty-one states, adultery is a misdemeanor; in two, it is a felony. Now, such laws are unsurprisingly headed for the legal boneyard in many states, but it’s noteworthy that they’ve remained on the books for so long. So, too, across the world (q.v. this depressing article). Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is beside the point. If Scripture is to be believed, God has ordained the powers of government and law-enforcement specifically so that evildoers would not be able to prosper in their wickedness and do harm with impunity.
“True Repentance”: Methinks thou dost protest too much
“Christ often connects the promise of the remission of sins to good works, not because He means that good works are a propitiation, for they follow reconciliation; but for two reasons. One is because good fruits must necessarily follow. Therefore He reminds us that if good fruits do not follow, the repentance is hypocritical and feigned.“ — Apology of the Augsburg Confession, V [IV II].154
Quite apart from any civil ramifications which the fall of a pastor (or a “pastor”) may have, the matter becomes necessarily more public if and when he shows himself to be recalcitrant. If it is essential that leniency, patience, and tight lips prevail up until this point— and it is— then it is all the more essential that firmness and frank testimony take over once it is is reached (see Pr. Walter’s point, above; if you don’t think that such a point ever arrives, then, again, you are part of the problem.)
So it is with Daniel Price. After commuting his own brief, self-assigned time-out— ah, how wonderful it is to be a one-man synod!— he took to the internet with an eerie new gestalt, plying the
The Gospel for some of the people broken by the Church, but not for anyone whose faith I’ve personally crushed
So now we come to today. Price is not only now back in his post as “pastor” of Trinity NWA, but he now heads “Christ Hold Fast”, a para-ministry organization he started in January of 2015 which is the continuation of Tullian Tchividjian’s “Liberate” network. The irony hardly needs to be pointed out: Price availed himself of the widespread public ignorance of his own adultery— to say nothing of his threats of murder and his blackmail— in order to step into Tchividjian’s shoes after the latter stepped down…because of adultery. Talk about a dance of the lemons.
Other than the time when circumstances forced him to name his sin— i.e., in April of 2014, when he announced to his congregation what he had done and stepped down— Price has never publicly confessed to his adultery. In this matter, even Tchividjian excels him in integrity, however marginally.
Even among those who know of Price’s adultery, though, there is generally widespread ignorance or denial of the facts of his sociopathic behavior. That, or people just don’t care because “all is grace.” I’ve had people who literally know nothing about the situation other than what they heard twelfth-hand on Facebook assure me, a man whose wife’s best friend was Price’s victim, that Price’s fall was a “moment of weakness.” If you have found yourself repeating this rumor, stop now. You know nothing, and you’re enabling a predator. Turn off the Bright Eyes and go smack some sense into yourself. Price groomed his victim for a year, promised her that he’d leave his wife and child for her, etc. That’s not a moment of weakness. That’s predation, manipulation, abuse of a position of trust, etc. After that, jilted blackmail is just the cherry on top.
What about the members whose trust Price betrayed, who left his church in the aftermath of the scandal as he began to show his true colors? I can’t think of many people who have been more “broken by the Church” than they. But no one even mentions them. Price’s toadies at Christ Hold Fast, his newfound followers and fans— none of them know or care about the former parishioners who were devastated by his misdeeds. By all appearances they’re just collateral damage. If they (or anyone else who knows the full story) object to Price’s triumphant return, if they decry his new gig as “Lutheran” para-minister, if they in any way blow the whistle on him— then they’re ignored, discredited, and rebuked as “legalists.” How dare they say such mean and nasty things about this wonderful boy! Plug his ears to those meanie haters, and give him some fudge and a speaking gig, before he throws a subtweet tantrum— because, believe me, he will.
Understand this: Daniel Price insists that anyone who thinks he’s in the wrong is a legalist. Anyone who suggests that his actions are not in keeping with the repentance simply “doesn’t understand the Gospel.” He says he’s the champion of people who have been “broken by the Church” (a line he got from Rod Rosenbladt). This is a load of crap. He’s the champion of people who think he’s awesome. He is most certainly not “for” anyone whose lives and faith have been broken by his own actions.
Ego-tripping as ministry-model
“[T]he acts of injustice that cause the greatest spiritual damage come from the abuse of power by parents, husbands, employers, leaders, and pastors (Matt 18:6-9; Luke 17:1-3). Those who hold these positions represent God in them. So their abuse of power is the abuse of their God-given authority which does great spiritual damage to those who are hurt by it.” — the Rev’d Dr. John Kleinig
The convictions of the self-anointed arise as fever dreams in sick minds, not as sane ratiocinations in healthy ones. But the insane do not think that they are insane; really, it’s everybody else who’s got the problem. The vindication of the ego is just that important. All must bow before it. Or as some have said…
Yes. Indeed it does. Regardless of whether the heart of your piety takes the form of praying the daily office or the form of superimposing “radical grace” slogans in stencil-fonts over selfies. The point is, though, that men like Price are convinced that the Church needs them. They’re convinced that their absence from the General Effort would ensure its demise. They’re convinced that they have some indelible anointing. Would it surprise you to learn that Price is a former Pentecostal? It shouldn’t. Indeed, it would seem that “former” is the wrong modifier. Over the past two years, the devil and fleshly-minded fools have turned what began as a tragedy at a small church in northwest Arkansas into a foul scandal and a true evil, all because one megalomaniac refused to accept the consequences of his sin and lead a quiet life away from the public eye.
But why should he have had to do that? This is America, folks. You can be whoever and whatever you want to be. If you drink enough Tang, you can be an astronaut. If enough people think you’re good at Bible, you can be a pastor. (A slight step up is when you and Tom decide that Dick is a pastor, so now he is one.) There are infinite second chances, and consequences and limitations are illusory. Follow your dreams, and don’t take “no” for an answer if it’s not the answer that
you want the Holy Spirit wants. If you decide that you have an extra-ordinary anointing to preach and administer the sacraments, then who’s to say otherwise? If you want to start a church— in the congregational or synodal sense of that term— then that’s fine. And if you want to stay a pastor after sleeping with one of the young ladies in your congregation and then blackmailing her, that’s also fine— as long as you “do confession and absolution” before you get back on the horn. To the best rebranding campaign go the spoils, insured by the eighth-commandment gag-rule. It’s all “for the sake of the Gospel.”
No, I don’t think so.
Moreover, avoiding any sort of ecclesial arrangement that would entail accountability and discipline does not make one untouchable. At various points in my life I have personally witnessed how much evil is enabled by cowardly games of quietist hot-potato, how the abused are more or less kicked to the curb and ignored— yes, and even threatened so that the self-anointed can stay on-message. To say that this is unacceptable, even to say that it’s un-Christian, is the height of understatement. It is the inverse of Christian, actually; it is Satanic, evincing the work of the devil, not of Christ (cf. John 6:44).
The time for dovelike innocence regarding Daniel Emery Price is far, far past. It is time for all Lutherans and all Christians of goodwill to adopt the shrewdness of serpents and give no quarter to this insidious false teacher and those who collude with him. By his demonstrated impenitence, his threats of violence, his blackmail, and his two years of megalomania and deception, Price has in indeed asked to be treated like a “heathen and a tax-collector.” Mark well the words of St. Paul: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler— not even to eat with such a one” (1 Co 5:11).
You, Christian, have a vocation today to speak truth with your neighbor so that the name of Christ might not be blasphemed among the nations.
You, Lutheran, have a vocation today to defend the reputation of our beloved Church of the Augsburg Confession, the name of which is daily dragged through the gutter of Gospel-platitudes by pastrixes and anti-pastors, self-sent false sons and confused girls playing dress-up who arrogate to themselves the prerogatives of the ordained at the behest of their cults of personality.
You have a vocation to combat all of this with whatever bit of wit, knowledge, and skill you can muster, in accordance with the measure of what you know. And now you know more. Give no audience, no credence, and no fellowship to the swindler, Daniel Emery Price. Only pray for his repentance, and pray that justice would prevail in earthly matters.
“In civil life obedience to the law is severely required. In civil life Gospel, conscience, grace, remission of sins, Christ Himself, do not count, but only Moses with the lawbooks.” — Blessed Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians [2:14], LW 26
“And Polycarp himself, when Marcion once met him and said, “Do you know us?” replied, “I know the firstborn of Satan.” Such caution did the apostles and their disciples exercise that they might not even converse with any of those who perverted the truth; as Paul also said, “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself.” Titus 3: 10-11 8. There is also a very powerful epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those that wish to do so, and that are concerned for their own salvation, may learn the character of his faith and the preaching of the truth. Such is the account of Irenæus.” — Eusebius, History of the Church, pp. 77-78
Alternatively, we could all follow the lead of Higher Things’s online content director, the Rev’d Donavon Riley, and take selfies with as many fake Lutheran pastors as possible. Riley is a contributor at “Christ Hold Fast”, and appeared as a speaker at the February conference. The fact that LCMS pastors have been partnering with Price is distressing, to say the least. These pastors avoid the charge of unionism because events like the “Christ Hold Fast” conference don’t match the LCMS definition of ministry. Yet they certainly match the “radical grace” definition of ministry. This allows these pastors to follow the letter of the LCMS law while still giving every appearance to the non-Lutherans in attendance that they support and condone CHF, its conference, and the unionistic mission of Liberate which it carries on. How curiously legalistic.
The mendacity of Donavon Riley and the rest of Price’s enablers in the LCMS and elsewhere needs to be addressed. It will have to wait, though, for some other time.