Autobiography (part 4): The Dark, Scarlet Letter Years

* Preface: This article is frank and forthright.  My purposes in writing it are twofold.  First, it is my story.  Secondly, I hope that others will learn from my folly and avoid the temptations that bring nothing but pain and sorrow.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

At the beginning of 1996, I was now in Louisville, KY.  I had moved from Little Rock, AR to work on a PhD at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  My area of study was Church History and my faculty adviser was Dr. Marvin Anderson.

During the first few months of study, I was doing guest preaching at churches in Kentucky and Indiana.  My first doctoral seminar was on the subject of Martin Luther with Dr. Anderson teaching.  I loved learning on this level and being a part of the seminary family.  When Ben Mitchell arrived on faculty to teach Ethics, I became his teaching fellow/grader.

Trinity Baptist Church

Soon after my studies began, I began working on planting a new church in Louisville.  With the help of some great men and their families, we launched Trinity Baptist Church.  We met in several locations until we settled on a school near Bowman Field.  Trinity Baptist Church eventually merged with Clifton Baptist Church.

The Fall

All was great. Then my world came crashing down. Rather, I crashed my world. To avoid being too graphic, I committed adultery.  For a period of time, I lived a duplicitous life. Finally, I called off the relationship. I thought I had escaped being found out.

The next day, I made a phone call to check on the other woman. My oldest son heard the phone conversation. He confronted me with words that pierced me, “Twenty years of respect are gone.”  After initially denying all, I came clean (or rather dirty).

I resigned my position as pastor. I left my seminary studies. I resigned my job as the night librarian at the seminary. Years of preparation, experience, and work were flushed down the drain.

In my arrogance I hurt a very good woman who had been my wife since we were both 16, my four children, my parents, my church, the seminary and the cause of Christ. I sinned against all of them. Yet, as David prayed when he confessed his sin, I had sinned chiefly against God.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.

— Psalm 51:4

Rebuilding

I went through a public church discipline process with the church.  The church and the seminary arranged for good counseling with a faculty member at the seminary.  I began working on trying to rebuild trust with those whom I had hurt.

The months ahead were difficult, but my family worked hard to come back together.  We made wonderful progress.  I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door for awhile.  During my college and early seminary days, I had worked at hotels.  So I found a job as a supervisor at a hotel.

A couple of years passed.  I was doing some teaching in small groups at church.  I made myself accountable and tried hard to rebuild my broken relationships.  At this point, Dr. Anderson encouraged me to return to my PhD studies.  After some thought and prayer, I had a strong desire to do so.  I began seeking other counsel.  My desire was to be able to teach history at some level.  I had already completed most of my course work for the degree.  I only had a few minor requirements and the writing of my dissertation to fulfill the degree requirements.  After getting all green lights, I contacted the seminary about the possibility.

The dean told me that if the church approved my return, then I could return.  Our church was now being pastored by my successor, Dr. Tom Schreiner, and had a number of seminary leaders involved in the church.  The church endorsed my return to my studies and provided a letter of support for the seminary.

I received a letter from the seminary welcoming me back.  I began getting prepared to return.  Then I was again contacted by the seminary and was told that the letter they had sent me was premature.  I was told that I would have to appear before a faculty review board.  With their approval, I would then be able to return.

So I met with the faculty.  Most of these men knew me well.  Some were members of the church that had endorsed me.  Through this time of rebuilding, my life had been an open book.  We had a frank discussion as I honestly answered all of their questions.  They thanked me for being so forthright and for the rebuilding in my life.  I was dismissed so that they could discuss the matter and vote on my return.

Disappointment

I fully expected to be approved based on all of the feedback that I had been receiving.  After a few days of not hearing anything, I contacted the chairman of that faculty committee.  He indicated that he could not provide any information to me in person, but that he would send a letter to my home.  I thought this kind of strange, but thought it was just part of the red tape.

One day I returned home to an empty house.  I checked the mail and went inside.  The letter from the seminary had arrived.  I went to my desk, opened the letter and sat stunned as I read that I had been rejected.

I was crushed.  All of the hard work, the church endorsement, my adviser’s encouragement, and the previous letter of approval from the seminary had not prepared me for this.  I was even more unprepared for the reasoning stated in the letter.  I probably could have more readily accepted a rationale of protecting the integrity of the seminary, etc.  Instead the reason given was that the committee thought it would be difficult for me to find a job at a Christian school because of the adultery or at state school with a seminary degree.

Another Fall

I did not respond to this in a godly manner.  One day at my computer, I responded to an e-mail that I should not have and visited a web site that I should not have.  I soon repented of this computer activity.  However, a few weeks later a family member notified the same Vice President of my computer activities.  He confronted and challenged me to make things right with God (which I had) and to inform my wife of my sin.

I did.  She told me to move out because she could not go through any further hurt.  I do not blame her.  I had hurt her deeply and had reopened the wounds with my latest actions.

The following months were very contentious.  I was hostile towards the seminary and towards the elders in the church.  They were put into a difficult position, but did some things that hindered another reconciliation.  Finally, my wife filed for divorce.

In the next article in this series, I will detail the depths of despair and the rebuilding after a final severance from my marriage, my church and the seminary.  I had tagged myself with the Scarlet Letter – an Adulterer.  My hope would rest on the verse from the prophet:

Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

— Isaiah 1:18

David had this similar hope after his adultery as evidenced by his prayer in Psalm 51:

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

— Psalm 51:7

Articles in my autobiography series:

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