Bethlehem Baptist Church Pastor Accuses The Roys Report of ‘Threatening’ Him: Our Response

By Julie Roys
Kenny Stokes Bethlehem Baptist Church
Bethlehem Baptist Church Downtown Pastor of Preaching and Vision Kenny Stokes. (Source: Video screengrab)

Under pressure for elders’ alleged abuse of power, Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC) elder and recently-appointed Pastor for Preaching and Vision Downtown Kenny Stokes accused The Roys Report of “threatening” him.

Stokes made the accusation at a public Q&A meeting at BBC on November 6. He was responding to questions about a 31-page Open Letter published three days earlier by a BBC member and her husband. The letter documents the elders’ alleged “misuse of power and pattern of questionable actions,” and calls for an independent investigation.

Stokes claimed WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today (CT), and the Star Tribune had already conducted what amounts to an independent investigation in their reporting, so BBC didn’t need to commission another one.

This notion was refuted online this week by Kate Shellnut, the reporter who covered the Bethlehem story for CT. In response to a tweet, asking reporters if they are comfortable with their articles being equated with an independent investigation, Shellnut tweeted: “I’m not. I tried to write about the situation at BBC and BCS (Bethlehem College and Seminary) for a broader Christian audience,” she said. “(T)here is a lot of nuance and detail that was not captured in my coverage but is relevant in the local church context, not to mention many examples beyond the people I spoke with.”

In the November 6 meeting, which was recorded and audio of it sent to The Roys Report, Stokes then disparages The Roys Report:

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And by the way, Julie Roys is, is—we don’t put her in the same category as WORLD Magazine and Christianity Today. We decided we would talk to reputable reporters who have, who are at organizations that have editorial boards, people who are accountable. And um, we did not see Julie Roys as that.

And she contacted me and others and threatened me—you know, ‘Talk to me, or I’m going to say you’re a flip flopper.’ And I decided right there. I’m not talking to her. And I mentioned it to one of the reputable reporters. And she said, ‘She gives us a bad name.’

 So, we’ve not talked to—so, you’re not going to get a balanced perspective from Julie Roys. You’re going to get what Bryan (Pickering) thinks. That’s what you’re going to get.

The Roys Report has published several stories, containing allegations that BBC elders mishandled abuse allegations and fostered a culture of fear. However, at no time, did I threaten Stokes or anyone else from BBC.

Stokes’ allegations stem from an email I sent on July 30, soon after I had interviewed former BBC Pastor of Care and Counseling Bryan Pickering.

Pickering told me that at a meeting of Downtown elders on March 11, he presented evidence of spiritual abuse by Andy Naselli, a BBC elder and Bethlehem College and Seminary professor. Pickering said that at the meeting, Stokes said the allegations against Naselli needed to be investigated and the Downtown elders unanimously agreed. Yet at a meeting of all BBC elders five days later, Stokes reportedly voted with the majority of elders to dismiss the allegations.

In my July 30 email to Stokes, I stated:

I’m working on an article concerning recent events at BBC. I would like to speak with you about those. Specifically, it’s my understanding that you called for an internal investigation into allegations concerning Andy Naselli at a March 11 meeting with Downtown elders. However, you later voted to dismiss the allegations without an investigation. Would you be willing to explain that apparent about-face to me?

Stokes did not respond to my initial email, so I sent another on August 13, stating, “I’m circling back about this. I would really like to understand what happened at BBC.”

Stokes did not respond to my second email either. And prior to this week, I had not sent any other emails or had any other communication with Stokes.

However, after listening to audio of the November 6 meeting, I sent Stokes an email Thursday, asking him why he had accused me of threatening him.

In an email the same day, Stokes apologized for his “flippancy” and “inaccuracy” when he alleged I had called him a “flip-flopper”—a term I never used. But he appeared to double-down on his accusation that I had threatened him (Stokes’ full email and our entire thread is published at the end of this article.):

You said that I had done an ‘apparent about face’, first calling for ‘an internal investigation’ and then voting to ‘dismiss the allegations without an investigation.’ At that time, with the threat of your publication pending, and your inaccurate presentation of my own thoughts and intentions and actions as ‘an about face’, I felt that you were putting pressure on me to talk to you. Given that pressure, and your defamatory portrayal, I felt I had no reason to trust you to accurately portray my perspective. To the contrary, we did speak to the reporters from CT, World and our own local StarTribune in part because they approached us without pressure and without a predetermined narrative.

I often name specific allegations in emails to sources. I do so to be fair. Before I publish any allegation, I want sources to know what the allegations are, and to have ample opportunity to respond. But I never threaten.

This week, I also communicated with two of the three reporters who covered events at Bethlehem Baptist this year. Both deny saying anything like what Stokes relayed. The third reporter did not respond to my inquiry.

On editorial boards and accountability

While it is true that The Roys Report differs from traditional media outlets and does not have the budget for an editorial board, it is not above accountability.

The Roys Report has a board, comprised of independent members with a wealth of experience in ministry, finance, and nonprofit governance.

Also, all the investigative articles published by The Roys Report—other than those republished from other outlets—undergo a rigorous editing process.

I edit the investigative articles submitted by other reporters. And I submit my articles—and occasionally investigative pieces by others—to one of several competent and experienced journalists.

These include a Pulitzer finalist and reporter with 20 years of experience. This veteran journalist reviewed one of my articles on Bethlehem Baptist.

Another person who edits our pieces is Sarah Einselen, an award-winning freelance reporter who writes for The Roys Report. Warren Cole Smith, president of MinistryWatch, has occasionally reviewed articles of mine, as well.

Interestingly, most all the major journalism scandals of the past two decades have involved publications overseen by editorial boards, like The New York Times, CNN, and Rolling Stone.

And ironically, Stokes and Bethlehem Baptist stand accused of the very things Stokes claims The Roys Report is guilty of—a lack of accountability. This, despite having a board, comprised of 44 members.

Stokes accuses authors of open letter

Stokes and other BBC elders and pastors have also accused the authors of the open letter—longtime BBC member Hannah Sheu and her husband, Mickey—of numerous unbiblical and “ungospel” actions. These include stirring up division and mistrust; doing the equivalent of suing another believer by going public with allegations; and insisting on their own way, violating the “description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4.”

Stokes accused the Sheus in both the November 6 meeting, and in a meeting on November 14, which was also recorded and audio obtained by The Roys Report. The accusations of two other elders were written in emails, which were given to The Roys Report.

These accusations will be explored in an upcoming article with analysis by leading experts on spiritual abuse.

This piece has been updated to correct some misspellings and provide additional clarity.

UPDATE: On January 21, Stokes sent an email to BBC’s Downtown campus that included an “apology” to me. The apology states that I “was offended,” but does not mention the reason for my offense: that Stokes had falsely accused me of “threatening” him. Instead, it presents the issue as a quibble over terminology. (The apology is on page 2 of the email.)

Kenny Stokes’ “Apology”

Kenny Stokes Apology to BBC


July/August Emails to Kenny Stokes:

While redacting, a few letters disappeared from the text.

July Aug Emails to Kenny Stokes_Redacted


Kenny Stokes’ December Response:

Kenny Stokes Bethlehem Baptist


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15 thoughts on “Bethlehem Baptist Church Pastor Accuses The Roys Report of ‘Threatening’ Him: Our Response”

  1. One of my favorite sub-genres of literature is a patient, thorough, accurate, duly-footnoted Julie Roys rebuttal to the panicky error-ridden accusations of a dishonest man who regrettably stands in some pulpit as a vicar of Christ.

    1. Indeed, Julie Roys writes so well. She does more self-editing than most major journalism entities do with editorial boards.

  2. Julie Roys-

    Have you ever considered the Elders are dealing with “post” or ex-evangelicals? Those alleging abuse share a common desire to move the church in a direction unacceptable to the mission, members, and leadership of the church.

    Each of them appear to have brought political views unacceptable to the Gospel. Further, these views only came up in the past year…

    Have you looked into Kyle Howard’s role?

    You appear to only want to cover half the story. Who is working to “Restore the Church”?

    1. I have sought to cover all sides of this story. It is difficult, however, when one side refuses to talk to me, but that is their choice.

      Regarding Kyle Howard, I reported that angle in my first story.

      I am curious, though… Are you suggesting people are inventing their stories of abuse of power and spiritual abuse simply to promote a political view?

      Also, who among the sources I’ve quoted in my stories is an ex-evangelical? Daniel Kleven? Bryan Pickering? Steve and Janette Takata? Benjamin Lantzer? To my knowledge, none of them fit that category, though admittedly, that has not been the focus of our conversations.

    2. “Each of them appear to have brought political views unacceptable to the Gospel.”

      Is that another way of saying they “committed the sin of empathy?”

        1. Christopher Hanley

          Oh by all means let’s bring Donald Trump, an aging ex–president, into an unrelated matter. This is deflection at its worst.

    3. “Have you ever considered the Elders are dealing with “post” or ex-evangelicals?”

      McCarythyism revisited.

    4. James-

      I am curious what you mean by this: “Have you ever considered the Elders are dealing with “post” or ex-evangelicals?” In context you seem to me to be implying that BBC leadership need not listen to former members who no longer consider themselves evangelical.

      I have noticed, in my 30+ years of involvement in evangelical Christian culture, a strong tendency to conflate “our group’s interpretation of the Gospel” with the Gospel itself. This allows a group to dismiss dissenting views – even those of other Christians who simply hold different interpretations and practices – as “unacceptable to the gospel.” This is not solely an evangelical or even Christian phenomenon. But it does seem to be going strong in American evangelicalism right now. I suspect this might be at play at BBC (although I haven’t followed the story especially closely).

      Personally, I think it is sad. Without dialogue with those who believe differently (past and present), evangelicals miss out on much of the richness and complexity that exists elsewhere in Christianity.

  3. Jessica Brussaard

    Before bringing 2 possible critiques to the table, I first want to say how unbelievably grateful I am for the Roys Report. Not only has it helped me make sense of past difficult “church” experiences, it’s ever bringing to the forefront much needed conversations.

    My 2 questions or critiques are matters of accuracy or preciseness:
    -The first is small, but I feel like the current headline is slightly misleading/a little more combative than necessary. With the given apology from Stokes, I think it’s more accurate to say “accused” versus “accuses.” (Otherwise, I agree with the RoysReport and with Stokes that he was in the wrong to speak so flippantly and inaccurately in a public setting)
    -The other story published on the RoysReport that still confuses me is the one on Brett Favre. While Favre was ordered by state authorities to give back the compensation he received, I just don’t see enough clarity in the article to justify his name linked to embezzlement in the headline. With what is known, it seems like the possibility remains open that Favre simply chose to partner with the wrong guy (unaware of his criminal intent). He may very well be guilty, but I was surprised by how quickly his name was dragged through mud (especially given his own comments on twitter about the story).

    I guess I put forth the above because of how much I love this site (and have told others about it). I so appreciate the non-click-bate-ness of the news offered and Julie’s tirelessness at making sure “the other side” always has a chance to respond. I simply put forth the 2 times I’ve felt personally confused over matters of accuracy (even if in the first case it’s a matter of verb tense).

    1. Hi Jessica,

      Regarding the headline of this piece… I didn’t see anything in Stokes apology indicating that he retracts his accusation that I threatened him. If anything, he seems to be justifying his accusation.

      Regarding Brett Favre’s inclusion in the Ted DiBiase embezzlement article… The state found that Favre took federal block grant money–$828K to be exact–for speeches he didn’t give. That seems pretty clear. Yes, Favre denies taking money for speeches he didn’t give, which we reported. But that’s common from the accused, and government findings are definitely credible and reportable.

      Hope that helps. It is always our aim to be as accurate as possible in both our articles and headlines.

  4. “ with the threat of your publication pending, and your inaccurate presentation of my own thoughts and intentions and actions as ‘an about face’, I felt that you were putting pressure on me to talk to you. Given that pressure, and your defamatory portrayal, I felt I had no reason to trust you”

    Hmm. So a journalist planning to publish (ie do their job)= threatening. Journalist asking someone for their account of their “own thoughts and intentions and actions” in context of them changing their mind about something (again-doing their job) = defamatory.

    Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like gaslighting?

  5. Does Pastor Stokes know the meaning of the word ‘threaten’? Disagreement/critique etc. are NOT synonymous with ‘threat’. How does this guy make his living in a communication-oriented profession? You go Julie! Keep shining a light in all the dark places!

  6. Thanks Julie for your fair treatment of the issues in the church. Blame the messenger is used when one is caught with their hand in the cookie jar. It saddens me to see the state of the organized “church”. The true Church is the actual body of Christ and I believe you are doing a remarkable job distinguishing between the two.

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