Signs and Wonders: Megachurches order staff to keep their mouths shut

by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 3/04/14, 09:34 am

Gag order? Two megachurches facing scrutiny for questionable behavior—Seattle’s Mars Hill Church and Charlotte’s Elevation Church—have something besides controversy in common: They both require staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. I’ve obtained a copy of the Mars Hill agreement, it covers both the employee and the employee’s spouse, and it threatens legal action if the employee has “any intentional or unintentional violation” of the agreement. Dave Kraft, a former elder who refused to sign the document and subsequently left the church, said, “It amounts to a gag order.”

Ever upward. Trail Life USA (TLUSA), the new Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), is reporting strong growth. A statement released this week said the group has chartered more than 250 troops so far, with about 400 in process. It expects to have 600 by year’s end. The group said “over 40 percent of these new troops were not previously involved in a scouting program.” Of course, that means that more than half of the new troops are coming out of the existing BSA program, which is sure to hurt the BSA’s numbers. In fact, the BSA announced in February that it saw a 6 percent decline in membership in 2014.

Charter schools growing. Charter schools are not a panacea. Because they depend on government funds for their existence, they remain militantly secular strongholds. But for many school districts, especially in urban areas, they are the only alternative to the bureaucratic and largely failing public schools. In Chicago, for example, they are providing hope to poor families who would otherwise have no alternative to a chaotic public school system. According to The Economist, “Most parents like them, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education are behind them. The Noble Network, which already runs 14 charter high schools, has just been given permission to open two new ones. Around 36 percent of the 9,000, mostly poor, children enrolled with Noble can expect to graduate from college, compared with 11 percent for this income bracket city-wide.” Because of the success of charters in Chicago and elsewhere, the number of such schools is growing. “According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), enrollment has grown by 80 percent in the past five years,” The Economist wrote. “The keenest cities are New Orleans (79 percent of children in charters), Detroit (51 percent) and the District of Columbia (43 percent). Newark is keen to expand its system. Los Angeles and New York, the biggest school districts, are enrolling the largest numbers.”

It actually worked. Last week I told you the new president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), Jerry Johnson, was calling on Paramount to put a disclaimer at the beginning of its new movie on Noah. Paramount is actually following thehis advice. The movie, which releases on March 28, will contain a disclaimer saying it is “inspired by the story of Noah” and that “artistic license has been taken.” The studio no doubt hopes the disclaimer will diffuse criticism. Whether this disclaimer goes far enough for some Christians who have criticized the movie remains to be seen, but it is hard to see this as anything other than a victory for Johnson and the NRB. They made a bold request, and saw a major Hollywood studio listen and change its behavior. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that happen.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is president of MinistryWatch and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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