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#ChurchToo Church Uncategorized Weekly Review

EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Elder Fraud, Calvin College, Facing Tough Truths

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be. 

Protect Yourself And Family Against Elder Fraud.  As I mentioned last seek in this column, when we experience financial downturns, that’s when financial frauds are often exposed.

One story this week, from our Texas-based reporter Kim Roberts, highlights a particularly despicable form of fraud:  elder fraud.

A pastor in Tyler, Tex., and his son, pleaded guilty to charges of stealing from an elderly couple in his congregation, Open Door Bible Church.

According to the plea agreements as reported in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, 67-year-old Jerome Rocky Milton will serve six months in jail and 10 years on probation. His son, Jerome Anthony Milton, age 27, was sentenced to two years deferred adjudication.  That means he will be given a chance to pay back the money.  His ultimate sentencing will be based on his efforts at restitution.

The elder Milton was arrested in October 2021.  He reached an agreement with prosecutors in August.

Milton was acting as power of attorney for the elderly couple, but used their credit and ATM cards to pay for personal expenses, ultimately draining their accounts, leaving them with less than one dollar.

Financial exploitation and fraud committed against elderly people is a significant problem in the United States, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to cover this story.  According to research from Comparitech, elder financial abuse in the U.S. each year results in losses exceeding $113 billion.

This fraud in Texas was reported by a church member who thought things were suspicious.  And that may be the first lesson here:  family and friends are the first line of defense.  If you see something, say something.  You can call the local police.

Also, the Department of Justice, AARP, and the American Banking Association offer resources to help detect and prevent elder financial fraud and exploitation.

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Calvin University Has A New President.  Wiebe Boer, who arrived on the Grand Rapids, Michigan, campus, the last week in June, is the university’s 12th president, succeeding Michael Le Roy, who stepped down after a 10-year term.

 A Calvin graduate himself, Boer has lived 30 of his 48 years in Nigeria, where his parents—both born in the Netherlands—served as missionaries.  He will lead the 146-year-old liberal arts university at a difficult point.

Over the past decade, the university has seen a significant decline in number.  Its total enrollment of 3,256 students is down from 4,008 in 2012. Last year it eliminated five majors and seven minors, including Chinese, Dutch, and German.  For a school with Dutch Reformed roots, the elimination of Dutch from its curriculum was a real blow to the school.

It has also seen its reputation change among the conservative families who used to send their children there.  Calvin occupies a more center-left position among evangelical colleges.  It forbids premarital sex and defines marriage as between a man and a woman, it allows a support group for LGBTQ students on campus. In the 2020-21 academic year, the school allowed a student who identifies as bisexual to be elected as student body president.  An employee of a campus-based research center married a same-sex partner.  It was a move that caused the college to severed ties with the group.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America, which is affiliated with Calvin, voted at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith. That caused some faculty, who must sign a document saying their beliefs align with the church’s historic creeds and confessions, to ask for exceptions.

Our next story involves a pastor at a church near Birmingham, Alabama, who has been charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a 7-year-old child.

Facing Bad News.  We had to report on a couple of hard stories this week.

The Rev. Kenneth Harold Daniel, 64, pastor at First Baptist Church of Chalkville, Ala., is charged with facilitating solicitation of unlawful sexual conduct with a child, a felony, for allegedly inappropriately touching a 7-year-old between January 2020 and earlier this month.  He was taken into custody at the church.  Details here.

Christopher Daron Smith, a Georgia pastor who had been charged with multiple sex offenses involving the abuse of a minor, was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head on Wednesday (October 19). Smith died by suicide during a recess of the court proceedings in his trial.  You can read more about that story here.

Every time we report on such horrific stories in quick succession, I worry that some of our readers might forget why we cover such stories.  It is not for the sake of sensationalism or “clicks.”  One of the myths of our business is that these stories are “click bait.”  They are not.  In case you’re interested, the stories that get the most clicks tend to be the ones with celebrity names attached, not unknown, small-town preachers.

No, the reason we report on these stories is because it is important for us to face the reality that these stories present to us.  And that reality is that we have real, systemic problems with sexual and spiritual abuse in the evangelical church.  We won’t pay the steep organizational and financial costs of solving this problem if we can continue to fool ourselves into believing it is not a real and massive problem.  That’s why we do these stories.

To read more about MinistryWatch’s philosophy in reporting “bad news,” click here.  To read a more expansive version of our philosophy, my recent speech to the Evangelical Press Association lays out why we think journalism is vital to the future health of the evangelical movement.  You can read that speech here.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.