The bad Baptist board
God and voting at Brookside Church
Brookside Church Senior Pastor Danny Stockstill
“You are literally disgusting. Pretending to be a religious outlet to push your agenda. Burn in Hell you ignorant f—cks.”
That was one of the texts Brookside Church Senior Pastor Danny Stockstill received after the following message appeared on the church sign that faces Peoria Avenue:
“The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”
It was Aug. 28, and Brookside Church was a polling place for the runoff election.
The passage is from Ecclesiastes 10:2, and the translation has to do with approaching life from a position of strength—the right, literally, having to do with the fact that most people are right-handed; thus, the dominant hand or position. The left, concurrently, is the weaker of the two. In no translation in any Christian bible is this considered some punk-ass nod to right wing American politics.
Stockstill says that wasn’t the motivation of the person who put it up, anyway—which I’m not buying—but we’ll get to that in a moment. He and I have maintained a friendship since I profiled him back in February when he was running for congress as a Republican in the 1st Congressional District. I found him to be the most reasonable candidate in the GOP field and not some bible-thumping, constitutionally-ignorant nut job, which is why reports of this story were disappointing. He finished, not surprisingly, last in a field of five.
I also like the guy.
“So, what the hell happened?” I asked him, as we sat down for lunch a few weeks ago. “I spend all that time in the earlier piece building your reputation and this is how you repay me?”
“To be fair, the only thing people knew about me was that my crazy church posted a crazy right-wing, Trump-loving post on Election Day,” he said of the message and the overwhelmingly negative reaction to it. “I would think the same thing if that was the only information I had.”
According to Stockstill, a few days before the election, someone on his staff suggested the passage be put on the church message board which looks out on Peoria.
“This exact passage?”
“So, what did you say?”
“I told them it wasn’t going up. It doesn’t promote who we are. It doesn’t do us any good, especially in our community.”
“But it went up anyway,” I said. “Were they trying to make you look bad?”
“No. This wasn’t a political statement. The person who did it was going for comedy.”
“I know the person who did it. She was not trying to stoke either side.”
“That’s tough to believe,” I said, “especially since the left was the one stoked. The right never would have been stoked on a sign at a Baptist church.”
“You’re probably right,” he admitted.
“But, for sake of argument—OK, have it your way. You had already rejected the sign. And she put it up anyway. How does that happen? You run the show, right?”
The answer is yes and no.
He said that’s the way church hierarchy works, especially Baptist church hierarchy—which Brookside is, even if the “Baptist” part has been taken off the signage.
“We have two co-pastors with equal control,” Stockstill said. “One of the struggles within the Baptist church—and the reasons we’re dying so much—is that everybody has authority and ownership of the church, and so, the feeling is, that I should be able to decide what the church does because I have just as much of a relationship with God as anyone else.”
“So is that why there are so many Baptist churches? Groups are always getting pissed off and breaking away?” I asked.
“Talk me through the day.”
“I got up that morning, got dressed—and, since I’m not running for anything anymore, social media is not the first thing I pick up in the morning; so I go vote. I’m driving down the street, and at 9 a.m., I get a direct message from a great friend who writes, ‘What is this?’ and I look at the [picture of the] message board and immediately send a text message and say to two people [at the church], ‘This has to come down ASAP!’ and then I called our custodian and said, ‘Go pull it down now.’”
And this happened, he says, before anyone from the media or any group contacted him.
“Did you know this was bad at the time?”
Here’s the disconnect—my disconnect: This Baptist pastor whose church put up something so monumentally stupid and religiously arrogant is the same Baptist pastor who tries to work with Planned Parenthood and doesn’t believe in Christian exclusivity in heaven, as I described in my initial piece on him. He also said this during a Republican debate about a Republican president:
“We like President Trump because he says what he says and he means what he says… So why are we so afraid to say, ‘There’s no way I want my son to act like [Trump]’? If my daughter ever dates a man who treated her like he treats women, I’m going to use my Second Amendment rights,” Stockstill said. “If I ever find out my son has treated women the way he has, I don’t care how old [my son] is, I’m going to come down on him. If we can’t stand up and say out loud, ‘I disagree with President Trump in the way he treats people,’ shame on us.”
He was booed when he said it. Conservative talk radio skewered him.
But he was right, and not one of the people on stage—not Andy Coleman; not Nathan Dahm; not Tim Harris; not Kevin Hern, the eventual nominee (all men of God, they’ll tell you)— could find even the semblance of a backbone to distinguish between the policy “successes” of the president, debatable though they may be, and his misogyny and infidelity.
“I know the right answer,” Stockstill said. “I know I’m supposed to be the role model for my kids, but as I listened to good men, Andy Coleman and Tim Harris, not be able to [make the distinction between Trump’s policies and character] because of politics, I found myself getting more and more frustrated that because we’re running for office, we can’t speak the truth.”
He said this, too, during the debate:
“I despise the fact he thinks it’s OK to have an affair with a porn star, pay her off, and pretend like it doesn’t matter,” Stockstill said. “It’s one thing to say we don’t have one man and one woman anymore, but for us to say it’s OK to have one man and five women is a disgrace. We’ve got to separate. He is not a role model. Is he a good president so far? I think he’s doing a pretty good job. Is he a role model for my kids? Not as long as I’m alive.”
You give a guy like that a mulligan for a sign on a message board, even though he didn’t fire or reprimand the person who posted it—which, for the embarrassment and insubordination it caused, seemed the appropriate thing to do. He did institute a new policy where all messages coming from the church will now have to be approved by him, but that counts on the good will of those at the church who have already demonstrated their willingness to circumvent his wishes.
In any event, he knows this battle is over. It’s lost.
“That billboard did more damage in two and a half hours than we did good in the past six years—not necessarily in our community, but the perception of what church is because it looks like we’re trying to manipulate people. It was only up for a couple of hours. I’m not sure how many people actually saw it, but the perception is all over the place.”
“Have to ask,” I say. “I know the left skewered you, but what about the right? Hear from anyone in support of the message on the sign?”
“One guy called and said, ‘I’m so glad to see this sign. This is the kind of church I want to be a part of.’ I told him, ‘You may not be happy here because that sign was a mistake. That’s not who we are.’”
“What did he say?”
“I don’t think he was really looking for a church.”
“It ended in profanity.”
Thinking back, Stockstill sees the problem was in the cherry-picking.
“I don’t really care what people think of me, but our message has to be grace, and there is a difference between the God I believe in and the God that is pushed out there so often,” he said. “What the church has been doing is taking individual verses, taking them out of context, and trying to manipulate people’s lives, which is not what we do.”
“What does this do—and remember we met over this issue—about your feelings about the separation of church and state?” I asked. “The people who acted most angrily to this are those who want your religion out of their politics.”
“As for that separation, it should be strengthened, because that separation protects religion,” he said. “That’s why I see it as necessary.”
And this is why the guy gets a mulligan.
“I nearly had you come to church this Sunday,” he told me. “Because the message was built completely around our church sign and what our message is. I started off by saying how the Bible actually supports polygamy—went to the verse in 2 Samuel where Nathan looks at King David and says, ‘I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added you many more things like these.’ Then I talked about how God also condones—in fact, demands—child sacrifice, if you go back to Abraham and Isaac. And the congregation is looking at me as if to say, ‘This is the first two points of your sermon?’ But then I talked about the dangers of the church trying to manipulate actions of people based on individual scripture, rather than the context of the whole Bible.”
Which brings us back to a billboard on a church at the end of August.
“We have to be extremely intentional about what our message is to our community,” Stockstill said. “If our message is focusing on actions or attitudes or lifestyles, we’re getting it wrong.”
They got it wrong.