Church fires pastor for being sick, elder for being quoted
It's worth reading each of Brad Greenberg's 2,329 words in a July 30 San Bernardino Sun article about former Calvary Chapel Rialto pastor Bruce Nelson, and the 400 words Greenberg wrote in Thursday's follow-up. But here's the story in a nutshell:

  • March 17, 2003: Assistant pastor Bruce Nelson leads two-week church mission trip to Madras, India.
  • April 2, 2003: Nelson returns to his church having contracted dengue fever, which leaves him with extreme fatigue and joint pain.
  • May 30, 2003: After missing five weeks of work due to his illness (he was hospitalized), Nelson received an e-mail from senior pastor Terry Hlebo, which says, "Bruce as of Today May 30 we will no longer be paying your salary."
  • June 2003: After criticism from the treasurer of the church's board of directors, the senior pastor says the salary will continue until workers' compensation checks started arriving.
  • July 2003: Fearing a civil suit from Nelson, the church denies his request to "keep his lights on and his water running." Nelson says he has never intended to sue.
  • November 2003: Nelson appeals to Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship, the umbrella body for the 1,100 Calvary Chapel congregations, but is told the fellowship has no authority over the decisions of the congregational leaders.
  • April-May 2004: A workers' compensation doctor clears Nelson to resume work. Nelson's personal doctor says he remains unable to work. Worker's compensation checks stop coming. "Under California labor law," notes the Sun, "Calvary was [then] required to offer Bruce a job within 15 percent of his previous pay." The law also states that the church would have been required to offer him a position in which he "has the ability to perform the essential functions of the job."
  • "Hlebo, however, said he had decided [Nelson] was no longer spiritually fit to be a pastor. To avoid having to pay him severance, Hlebo said, the church offered [Nelson] a job as a janitor." (The Sun)
  • Nelson declines the job and files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint is dismissed over jurisdictional matters. (The EEOC rarely gets involved in church employment cases.) Nelson and Calvary then go to mediation.
  • As part of the mediation, Carey F. Baird, a church janitor for 10 years and elder at Calvary Chapel Rialto, writes a letter of reference stating that Nelson "was one of the most diligent, reliable and hard working employees on staff" but that his illness surely prevents him from working as a church janitor.
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  • Spring 2005: Mediation ends.
  • July: Nelson speaks to the Sun, which publishes his story July 31.
  • Thursday: The Sun reports that Hlebo dismissed Baird as an elder because his mediation letter had been quoted in the July 31 article.

The employment dispute was shocking enough—one would think that a church would do all it could to support a pastor who got a serious disease while on a mission trip, but, as the Sun notes, these issues can be tricky. "The dispute depicts one difficulty of running a place where finite wealth and infinite needs collide," wrote Greenberg.

But there was an undercurrent of authoritarianism in the story—and when Baird was dismissed, something really seemed awry.

Weblog rarely does original reporting, but in this case it seemed worth checking out. Calvary Chapel Rialto seemed vindictive; surely there was more to the story.

But calling Calvary Chapel Rialto and speaking to assistant pastor Jack Montoya clarified things only insofar as it demonstrated that the church really does see being quoted in a newspaper on a church dispute as sinful.

"As a church we love Bruce [Nelson] very much," Montoya said quietly. "We are just grieved over his behavior … and want to see him come to repentance."

What behavior was that? I asked.

"Contacting the newspaper to run a story," he said. "He has black-eyed the church by making it public."

Likewise, Montoya said, "Carey [Baird] is an awesome brother." But when asked if Baird was really dismissed as elder simply because his letter of reference was quoted, Montoya said, "We know that without church discipline, the church conforms like the world. It's internal, and that's where we want to deal with it."

When repeatedly asked if there was anything factually wrong with the Sun's reporting, Montoya did not say that there was. The problem, he said, was that the issue was in the newspaper at all.

Actually, the church and society would be far better off if there was more reporting like Greenberg's. His July 31 article could have savaged Calvary Chapel Rialto. It could have been filled with quotes from experts on employment ethics and law. It could have quoted critics of Calvary Chapel ecclesiology, which puts all authority in the senior pastor. It could have focused entirely on Nelson's dispute with his church.

But it didn't. Greenberg did not write about one man's crusade against an injustice perpetrated against him by his church and employer. He wrote about one man's struggles to understand his faith amid suffering. His employment woes are only one part—albeit the major part—of his trials. The kicker of the story is "Dengue fever," not "Ill will." The headline: "A Test of Faith," not "Fired for Infirmity."

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There's no explicit politics angle to the story. A different reporter might have focused on the church-state elements in the story: Why doesn't the EEOC get involved in church cases? How much employment law must churches follow? Is teaching that it's sinful to go to court really a power play? That's the stuff of most religion coverage right now.

But it's not really getting the story. Greenberg has reported a story that captures what's at stake for the people in it. For Nelson, this is a story about faithfulness in suffering: What are the duties of the sufferer? What are the duties of the church to the suffering? For Calvary Chapel Rialto, it seems to be a story about acceptance: surrendering to the will of an omniscient God and to the decisions of the senior pastor as he seeks to be led by God.

For Greenberg, this should be a story that raises his profile significantly as a religion reporter.

More articles

ELCA convention:

  • Lutherans to vote on mushy proposal | Policies have the consistency of potluck supper Jell-O. (Bill Wineke, Wisconsin State Journal)
  • ELCA pledges unity before tackling sexuality issues | The Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America passed a resolution this morning pledging to stay united despite disagreements and then recessed to worship before tackling controversial proposals regarding gay-and-lesbian ministry (Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.)
  • In an hour, ELCA delegates condense the issues | After years of prayer, polarization and liturgical politics, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America boiled down their roiling debate over human sexuality to an hour of heartfelt testimony Thursday (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
  • Church to vote on gays in ministry | Study recommends no change in policy (Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.)
  • Lutheran body near vote on gay rules | With only one day to go before a scheduled vote, an hour of debate on Thursday revealed a Lutheran assembly sharply divided on whether to change church policy that requires gay and lesbian pastors to remain chaste (Chicago Tribune)
  • Lutherans open Eucharist to Methodists | Two of the nation's largest Protestant denominations took a historic step Thursday as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially opened up its Communion table to United Methodists (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)
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  • Also: Two largest mainline Protestant churches to share Holy Communion table (Religion News Service)
  • Lutherans nearing key vote on gays' role | The proposals are meant as a compromise, aiming to uphold Lutheran restrictions on gays and lesbians who are not celibate, while allowing congregations and bishops to make exceptions in some cases without risking discipline (Associated Press)
  • Reform Jewish leaders addresses Lutherans | The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism, speaking at a time of heightened tension between Protestants and Jews over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, urged a national Lutheran meeting Thursday not to "demonize" the Jewish state (Associated Press)

Religion & homosexuality:

  • Sexual doctrine swings both ways | So it's okay for priests to be gay, so long as they don't have sex? The Church of England once again gets its cassocks in a knot (Jamie Douglass, Spiked, U.K.)
  • Christians from away restore faith | So many conservative Christian leaders in Maine have tired of Michael Heath and his anti-homosexual obsession. They have better things to do (Bill Nemitz, Portland Press Herald, Me.)
  • Gay adoption not top priority | The chairwoman of a committee charged by legislative leaders to review gay adoption said she was in no hurry to do so (Lawrence Journal-World, Kan.)

Same-sex marriage:

  • Gay couple go to court over marriage rights | Two British women who married under Canadian law are taking the government to court today to demand equal rights with heterosexual married couples (The Guardian, London)
  • Lesbian couple's high court test | Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson were married while living in Canada in 2003 and now want a legal declaration of the validity of their union in the UK (BBC)

Anglican Communion:

  • Ruling for breakaway parish | Judge rejects Episcopal diocese's attempt to get property back from the conservative St. James, which cut ties with the national church (Los Angeles Times)
  • Parish awaits judge's final say | Interim ruling says St. James Church, not the Episcopal Diocese, is rightful property owner (The Orange County Register, Ca.)
  • Religion Today: Connecticut Six | A church divided, a congregation torn (Associated Press)

Church life:

  • Mass. lawmakers press Church to open books | Under the proposed law, the state's churches would need to disclose the health of their finances, a move resisted by religious leaders who say it contravenes the separation of church and state enshrined in the U.S. Constitution (Associated Press)
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  • Hillsong preachers run $1.3m business | Financial returns filed for Leadership Ministries Incorporated (LMI) this week show the not-for-profit association posted revenue of $1.329 million last year (The Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Call for churches to hold special prayers | The Christian Federation of Malaysia today called on all churches in the country to hold special prayers for the haze which had affected many parts of the country to clear soon (New Straits Times, Malaysia)
  • Doing well, doing good | One of America's most innovative churches looks conventional at first glance. But its practice of "ministry evangelism" serves the community and provides all the indicators of a healthy, growing church (World)
  • Packed, but still empty | "Contemporary" churches aren't attracting many contemporaries (Gene Edward Veith, World)


  • Pope's first outing tests faith, security | Pope Benedict XVI travels to Cologne next week to join hundreds of thousands of young Christians for the Catholic Church's World Youth Day (The Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Archdiocese wants closed churches' assets | The Vatican has ruled the Boston Archdiocese is not automatically entitled to the assets of closed parishes, although archdiocesan officials said Thursday they believe the decision will not apply to most of the churches that have been closed (Associated Press)
  • Alleged clergy-abuse victims amend bankruptcy suit over church property | A group of alleged clergy-abuse victims has filed a new complaint in an Oregon bankruptcy court against the parishes and parishioners within the territory of the Portland Catholic Archdiocese, seeking a ruling that would turn purported parish assets into a source of funds for the victims' claims (
  • Parishes told to protect rights | Voice of Faithful calls on churches to appeal closings (The Boston Globe)
  • Celebrity birth hospital faces inquiry over Catholic ethics | The Vatican has become embroiled in an ethics and abortion row involving a private Roman Catholic hospital that is a popular venue for celebrity births (The Telegraph, London)

Priestly affair:

  • Accusation of an affair leads priest to resign | The rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral resigned amid accusations that he was having an affair with his longtime personal secretary (The New York Times)
  • Top NYC Catholic leader named in divorce | A Roman Catholic monsignor resigned as rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral after being accused of having an affair with a married woman (Associated Press)
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  • Monsignor named as 'other man' in divorce | A Roman Catholic monsignor named in court papers as "the other man" in a divorce case resigned Thursday as rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the New York archdiocese said (Associated Press)


  • Connecticut cleric charged in fraud case | Former pastor of the now-closed Victory Temple of the Church of God in Christ in Waterbury fell for a Nigerian e-mail scam (The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.)
  • Priest accused of DWI, hit-and-run | Police say he caused four crashes and fled; charges are likely in two cities (The Dallas Morning News)

Bishops ban pro-abortion, gay rights speakers:

  • Bishop ban targets pro-abortion, gay rights politicians | Catholic move mutes speeches at churches (The Arizona Republic)
  • Bishop's right is freedom's loss | Catholic ban on speakers no victory for anyone (Editorial, The Arizona)

Church & state:

  • A historic mission | Even though civil libertarians are understandably concerned about spending public money to renovate religious monuments, the missions should be among the handful of exceptions (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)
  • Judge in N.Y. hears debate on worship at public school | Onlookers packed a federal courtroom in Lower Manhattan yesterday to hear a case involving the rights of religious groups to rent New York public schools for worship services (The Washington Times)

Religion & politics:

  • Christians counter right | Christian Alliance for Progress aims to draw attention away from Justice Sunday II (The Capital Times, Madison, Wi.)
  • George Bush's muscular Christianity | The phrase muscular Christianity is more resonant of Victorian England than modern-day Washington, DC (The Economist, U.K., sub. req'd.)
  • Planned politics | The privileged position pro-abortion groups enjoyed in the Democratic Party after scalping Robert Bork has eroded considerably (George Neumayr, The American Spectator)
  • Anti-abortion leader berates Shallenburger's inclusiveness | The Kansas Republican Party, long divided between conservative and moderate camps, is showing signs of fresh fracture — this time among conservatives (Lawrence Journal-World, Kan.)
  • Getting religion | If the Democratic Party is to revitalize itself and win, progressive religious leaders need to stay out of electoral politics (Frances Kissling,
  • Feminists for (fetal) life | | Feminists for Life fails to acknowledge women as moral agents able to decide what is best for themselves. And in that sense, they aren't feminists at all (Katha Pollitt, The Nation)
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  • A sin that wasn't | Moses didn't require a direct heir to succeed him. President Roberts shouldn't either (Editorial, Liberian Observer)

John Roberts:

  • NARAL's explosive charge | The abortion rights group's slander of John Roberts helps his confirmation (Jacob Sullum, Reason)
  • Roberts and Roe | Roberts's judicial conservatism provides ample cause for concern, regardless of his views on Roe (Kate Michelman, The Nation)
  • Abortion rights group withdraws anti-Roberts ad | Organization's allies among critics of NARAL commercial (The Washington Post)
  • Abortion rights group plans to pull ad on Roberts | The group said it would replace an advertisement that describes Judge John G. Roberts Jr. as "one whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans" (The New York Times)
  • Abortion smear | NARAL's ad that will do less to discredit Judge Roberts than it will the organization that created it (Editorial, The Washington Post)
  • Stop the Roberts bombing | The advertisement created by NARAL is outrageous, but Roberts has an obligation to be forthcoming in answering questions about his real views (E. J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post)
  • Blindly battling over Roberts | I'm having a hard time figuring out who's less rational: the liberal activists campaigning to defeat John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination, or the conservative activists campaigning to support it (Jonathan Chait, Los Angeles Times)
  • Smearing John Roberts | It is fundamentally wrong to portray Roberts as man who has excused violence against other Americans or who somehow offered legal support in a clinic bombing case (Scot Lehigh, The Boston Globe)
  • Anti-Roberts ad rapped, withdrawn | Said to distort nominee's role in clinic bomb case (The Boston Globe)
  • NARAL to pull Roberts TV ad | Will replace it with another saying he opposes Roe v. Wade (The Washington Times)
  • Roberts friendly to abortion foes | Roberts' brief doesn't make him a clinic-bomber supporter. It raises questions about his priorities (Jim Spencer, The Denver Post)

Justice Sunday II:

  • Mixing church with partisanship | The organizers of so called "Justice Sunday" have clearly declared that anyone opposing their point of view is "anti-Christian," and I find that deeply offensive (Lynn Rowland, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)
  • For conservative Christians, game plan on the nominee | As they prepare for a "Justice Sunday" telecast this weekend to rally support for changing the Supreme Court, conservative Christians say they are laying the groundwork to attack Senate Democrats if they question Judge John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court nominee, about his personal views on abortion or other social issues (The New York Times)
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  • Liberal religious groups challenge 'Justice Sunday' | National Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalist Association say event drags religion into confirmation fight (Reuters)
  • National Council of Churches slam Justice Sunday II | The liberal NCC says everyone should be vocal about the political process, but criticizes conservative Christians for not separating religious views from political ones (Family News in Focus, Focus on the Family)

Life ethics:

  • Fertility watchdog considers cancer gene screening | Families with a history of cancers and other inherited diseases may soon be able to ensure their babies do not have the genes responsible by opting for IVF instead of natural conception (The Guardian, London)
  • Judge gives victories to both sides in abortion measure challenge | Fight centers on voter guide wording on Proposition 73, the initiative that would require notification of parents or a waiver from a judge before a girl could get an abortion (Associated Press)
  • Healthism and eugenics | Healthism resembles moral rearmament. It wishes to change mankind by controlling people's lifestyles. As healthism gets increasingly coercive, eugenic considerations may crowd out reproductive choice (Editorial, Nairobi Hospital Proceedings, via British Medical Journal)
  • A case of almost eugenics | Israel lacks a definitive list of diseases and defects that justify the approval of termination of pregnancy by medical authorities (Haaretz, Tel Aviv)


  • Pro-Israel Evangelicals may try to block US aid | A coalition of pro-Israel Evangelical groups is to meet in Washington in the near future to discuss whether to actively oppose US financial aid for Israel tied to disengagement, according to Richard Hellman, head of the Christians' Israeli Public Action Committee (The Jerusalem Post)
  • Engaging Israel's disengagement | Israel begins a historic withdrawal from Gaza and U.S. Christians prepare to disagree over it (World)
  • What the Presbyterian Church (USA) has in common with al-Qaida | They agree that Israel is the problem (James Lileks, Newhouse News Service)

Human rights:

  • Oversexed | Anti-trafficking efforts place undue emphasis on commercial sex work and downplay other forms of forced labor (Debbie Nathan, The Nation, sub. req'd.)
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  • Welcoming the stranger | Faith-based groups say it's time to reform immigration (Naomi Schaefer Riley, The Wall Street Journal)
  • Southern Sudan faces formidable challenges | Twenty-one years of civil war have left southern Sudan with roads in disrepair, some of them mined. Electricity is scarce, as are clinics, schools, even police and judges (Associated Press)
  • Hindu ADs assault Christian Dalits | Dalit Christians, who refused to give money to a temple festival at Vittilapuram in Sadras, were assaulted by Hindus of the same community (New India Press)


  • Christian enclave ties future to life outside Iraq | Ankawa, a town of about 15,000 people just outside the capital of the northern Kurdish region, is almost entirely populated by Christians and has become a bastion of that declining -- some say dying -- community in mainly Muslim Iraq (Associated Press)
  • Envoy delivers U.S. vision for Iraqi constitution | By passing along its suggestions, Washington hopes to help leaders resolve contentious issues and meet a Monday deadline (Los Angeles Times)

Evolution & Intelligent Design:

  • Must science also make a leap of faith? | I believe in intelligent design. I can't prove it. Nor can anyone else who thinks we're "fearfully and wonderfully made" by something other than blind fate (James N. Coffin, The Orlando Sentinel)
  • Intelligent design-ists hide under science cloak | Pseudo-creationists introduce theology into the saga of life (Robert Marshall, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)
  • Creations | Intelligent design is an expression of sentiment, not an exercise of reason (Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic)

'Declaration of Independence ban' case settled:

  • Christian teacher's lawsuit settled | Stephen Williams had alleged that Cupertino district officials forbade him from teaching the religious context of America's founding (Los Angeles Times)
  • Suit over religion in school ends | Teacher, officials to dismiss claims (San Jose Mercury News, Ca.)
  • Case settled over use of God's name | Teacher can quote historical documents that credit a creator (The Daily Review, Hayward, Ca.)


  • Scientists' belief in God varies starkly by discipline | Those in the social sciences are more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than researchers in the natural sciences, the study found (LiveScience)
  • Mormon spurns Harvard for Idaho | "You have to appreciate what this is like," Kim Clark said. "We behold him (Hinkley) to be a prophet. Imagine yourself getting a call from Moses." (Associated Press)
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  • Truly making an investment in abstinence | Abstinence-only education works. How do we know? Because NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW have shifted into crisis mode to save the pro-abortion, pro-contraception and pro-promiscuity agenda (Judi McLane, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Missions & ministry:

  • On a mission for the 21st century | The Victorian missionary can be a source of inspiration to some - but today's missionaries are a different breed (BBC)
  • Martial-arts minister | Sixth-degree black belt uses skills to shatter concrete, share Gospel (The Birmingham News, Ala.)
  • Gospel on leadership | Conference brings together pastors, professionals (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)
  • Scaled-back Promise Keepers retains family, faith message | More than 14,000 expected at Nashville conference (The Tennessean, Nashville)
  • Fight for souls: Christians take on witchdoctors in Kawempe | Concerned that too many people are going into witchcraft, Born Again churches in Kawempe have drawn the battle lines. And the witchdoctors say they will be only too happy to pay the Christians back in kind (The Monitor, Uganda)
  • Why we fall | Getting healed with Jee-sus and Gospel Duck at the Anaheim Convention Center (OC Weekly, Ca.)


  • Bishop attacks gospel artists | South Africa-based Zimbabwean Bishop Olla Juru yesterday hit out at local gospel artistes describing them as uncaring, anti-Christ and dishonest (The Herald, Zimbabwe)
  • Hard rocking Skillet plays to Christian beat | John Cooper is one of Christian rock's best-known musicians. But he grew up hearing that rock music was evil (The Express-Times, Easton, Pa.)

More articles of interest:

  • A God-awful story | Dinner With a Perfect Stranger is a fine read for evangelical Christians. Its message is embrace Jesus for he is God and you'll put your troubles behind you and your cares will melt away as long as you accept that Mother Teresa and Hitler are sinners separated from God (Ms. Plunkitt, The Westborough News, Mass.)
  • Treating the body, respecting the spirit | According to a new study, religion has a strong influence on many physicians (Chicago Tribune)
  • What happened to Jesus' haftarah? | The custom of reading a chapter from the Prophets section of the Bible in public in the synagogue is an ancient one, although we do not know when precisely it was instituted, who introduced it and what the circumstances were surrounding its introduction (Hananel Mack, Haaretz, Tel Aviv)
  • Religion news in brief | Church of Nigeria denounces Church of England's partnership policy; Orthodox denomination quits the National Council of Churches over politics; Christian Reformed Church's director-designate resigns over crossed "boundaries"; Phoenix Diocese bans politicians who support abortion, gay rights; and other stories (Associated Press)
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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
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