Three months ago, my career was going precisely to plan. I had just published my first book and had begun receiving invitations to speak at major conferences and large churches. My platform was growing. My radio show was doing well. And I was publishing regularly in Christian periodicals. Life was good until . . .
I blew the whistle on the Moody Bible Institute.
Since then, I’ve been fired from my job as a national radio host. I’ve had speaking engagements cancelled. My use of a studio at the offices of a Christian magazine has been revoked. I’ve received vicious hate mail. I’ve lost friends. And I’ve missed several golden opportunities to promote my book at a time crucial to its success.
It’s been brutal, both professionally and personally. But I knew this would happen.
I’m not naïve. I’ve been in Christian media and ministry far too long to think I could take on a giant like Moody and not suffer consequences.
So why did I do it? Why did I take such a risk?
As is the case with many consequential decisions, it’s complicated, and would probably take a book to explain fully. But I’ve tried to document the main reasons here because I believe they’re not just important to me, but to anyone who wishes to be faithful to the call of Christ. Plus, they help show how the events at Moody impact the broader mission of the church, and why her success is so important.
Obeying God vs. Man
The main reason I blew the whistle on Moody is simple: I felt God prompt me to do so, and I knew I must obey God rather than men.
“The main reason I blew the whistle on Moody is simple: I felt God prompt me to do so, and I knew I must obey God rather than men.’”
But this fall, when I discovered that the issues were far more severe and widespread than I had imagined – and that many faculty were in distress, and a group of alumni had launched a website to address the problems – I sensed it was time to act.
Yet I admit, I was scared.
I didn’t want to lose my job or my platform – or jeopardize the success of my book. I believed passionately in what I was doing and had invested untold hours and personal resources to pursue what I truly considered a calling. Yet I had a growing conviction that if I shrunk from speaking the truth at this crucial hour, my voice would become worthless.
Several years earlier, I had felt similarly compelled to publish an article about a radical communist who was actually headlining a major evangelical conference. However, a media-savvy consultant strongly warned me against it.
“Julie, when you have 50-thousand Twitter followers, you can say whatever you want,” he told me, “but not now. You need to ingratiate yourself to these evangelical heavy-hitters, not confront them.”
Yet since then, I have noticed that by the time a Christian leader gets 50-thousand Twitter followers, he’s often made so many compromises that he’s lost the ability to speak prophetically. Without meaning to, he has sold his soul – one quenched prompting of the Spirit at a time.
“(B)y the time a Christian leader gets 50-thousand Twitter followers, he’s often made so many compromises that he’s lost the ability to speak prophetically. Without meaning to, he has sold his soul – one quenched prompting of the Spirit at a time.”
Still, some might argue that publicly confronting another believer or Christian institution is never right – that doing so is somehow un-Christian. Sometimes I wish I could believe that. It certainly would have made my life easier the past few months. But that’s not what I see in Scripture.
Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day publicly – and regularly. And He wasn’t particularly nice about it, referring to them as “whitewashed tombs” and “brood of vipers.”
Similarly, in Matthew 18, Jesus instructed believers to tell the entire church about someone’s sin if that person persisted in unrepentance after first being confronted one-on-one, and again with witnesses. This was the pattern I chose to follow when I finally addressed issues with Moody. Yet as the founder of an online Christian ministry recently noted, Matthew 18 applies to a sin between two individual Christians. It’s not a directive for confronting errant public leaders and institutions.
I couldn’t find a biblical argument to excuse myself from speaking out against the wrongdoing I discovered at Moody. Yet it was hard to go public. And I vividly remember staring at my first blog post and trying to muster the courage to hit publish. That’s when the following tweet popped up on my phone:
You can be a coward and still speak on a multitude of controversial issues, as long as said issues have a base where you desire to reside. Courage is speaking on that one issue that your base will not when doing so may ostracize you from them and leave you alone in the cold.
— Kyle J. Howard (@KyleJamesHoward) January 4, 2018
My jaw dropped when I read that tweet. I don’t know Kyle, but what he wrote spoke powerfully to me. And I knew what God was asking me to do.
The Evangelical “Machine”
Another factor that drove me to blow the whistle on Moody was something veteran producer and talk show host Ingrid Shlueter called the “evangelical industrial complex” or “celebrity machine.”
Shlueter encountered this “machine” while working as an assistant producer for Radio Host Janet Mefferd. In 2013, Mefferd discovered that celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll had plagiarized, and confronted him about it on her show. Everything Mefferd said was spot-on, yet she received virulent backlash – not just from Driscoll, but from his publisher, fans, and other heavy-hitters loyal to Driscoll. The opposition became so intense that Mefferd eventually removed evidence of Driscoll’s plagiarism from her website and apologized.
Yet Shlueter, who resigned her job in protest, hinted that Mefferd had been strong-armed. “All I can share is that there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes,” Shlueter wrote. “You may not go up against the machine. That is all. Mark Driscoll clearly plagiarized and those who could have underscored the seriousness of it and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex.”
When I published, I didn’t just take on Moody. I took on the machine. This is why I suffered much more than a cancelled show and the loss of a paycheck. In the machine, friends protect friends whether they’re deserving of it or not – and whistleblowers get crushed.
“When I published, I didn’t just take on Moody. I took on the machine . . . In the machine, friends protect friends whether they’re deserving of it or not – and whistleblowers get crushed.”
I felt an obligation to inform Wheaton parents and alumni and asked to air my piece on Moody Radio. But Moody leadership killed it – not because my piece wasn’t important or true. In fact, Board Chair Randy Fairfax (who was just a trustee at the time) sent me an email thanking me for “the determination and integrity” in my reporting, and for “seeking to honor . . . the alumni, parents and students of Wheaton.”
Yet Moody killed the piece because Wheaton was our friend.
My piece eventually aired on Sandy Rios’ former show on WYLL, and led to significant changes within the education department at Wheaton. But Sandy took a lot of heat for what she did. And had it not been for her grit and courage, the piece might not have ever broadcast.
I witnessed the machine in action over and over during my time at Moody. Management killed commentaries and show topics, and even scolded me once when I published an important article elsewhere that negatively impacted a ministry partner.
I came to realize that the machine, though “Christian,” was synonymous with the world, and I could not serve it and serve God.
I also realized that if I shrunk from publishing because of the machine, it would win. And maybe the machine wins anyway. But if there’s one thing the #MeToo movement has shown, it’s that sometimes the vulnerable, armed with truth, can prevail. I knew I had to try.
What’s at Stake
Yet, the consequences to me personally for blowing the whistle on Moody don’t even register when compared to what’s at stake. The evangelical church is facing a major crisis of orthodoxy. Increasingly, we’re succumbing to all sorts of liberal errors – from embracing the LGBTQ agenda and a leftist-inspired form of social justice to abandoning the inerrancy of Scripture and what it teaches about origins, the fall, and redemption.
This crisis is especially acute at Christian schools. In fact, theologian and historian Carl Trueman argues that the “cultural Battle of Waterloo will be won – or lost – on the campuses of Christian colleges.”
In this climate, college administrators and professors should be vigilant to preserve true Christian doctrine. But as Trueman laments, very few administrators “choose fidelity to their faith over institutional prestige.” And many professors “are marked less by their knowledge of their subject than by their ability to spout angry clichés about privilege and power and hegemony.”
Against this sea of theological drift and outright heresy, Moody has traditionally stood as a beacon of orthodoxy. So I was shocked when I discovered that there are professors at Moody who reject the institute’s historical understanding of inerrancy – and some who support liberation theology and causes like Planned Parenthood. I also discovered financial mismanagement and ethical lapses at the board level and realized that the situation at Moody was dire.
“But if Moody’s house is truly going to be cleaned and set in order, it will require repentance . . . the kind that prompts public confession, tears, and further resignations.”
I am heartened that since publishing, the board has adopted the Chicago Statement on biblical inerrancy, which will moor Moody to a solid anchor. I’m also encouraged that the board recognized the need for change in leadership and removed the institute’s top three officers.
But if Moody’s house is truly going to be cleaned and set in order, it will require repentance – not the kind that crafts public statements designed to contain the damage, but the kind that prompts public confession, tears, and further resignations.
Yet what’s wrong at Moody is what’s wrong with much of the evangelical movement – and perhaps what’s plagued the church since its inception. As Paul lamented two millennia ago, “Everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” This is what makes the “machine” evil, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The interconnected network of ministries, businesses, and prominent leaders could be leveraged for the good of the Kingdom. It could be used as a tool to bring correction and accountability, instead of as a weapon to punish whistleblowers and protect the powerful. But that would take courage. And love. And sacrifice.
It would require the church to imitate Christ.
Despite what I’ve observed, I am hopeful this can happen. I still believe in the church, and I truly believe we are better than this.
I’m also hopeful about my future. God has been faithful throughout, and there are some exciting developments I hope to announce soon.
So, to those of you who have been praying, please continue. Satan would love to see the problems at Moody destroy the institute, but God can use them to refine her and strengthen the church. If we obey Him, I’m confident He will.