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OPINION: The Master’s Seminary—COVID-19 Denial, Dishonesty, and Deception

By Austin Doucette
The Master's Seminary

On January 6th, The Roys Report published the article, In Wake of Classmate’s Death, Master’s Seminary Student Accuses School of Flagrantly Violating Its Own COVID-19 Protocols. In that article, I shared my experience as a student at The Master’s Seminary (TMS), and how I was ridiculed by both students and professors for simply trying to follow the school’s published health guidelines.

Many have wondered how TMS would respond to my statements—or if the school would respond at all. I’ve received countless messages to this effect: Has the TMS administration reached out to you? What’s been the official response to your story? Has TMS released a statement or made institutional adjustments? Are they even aware of the article?

Hopefully I can shed some light on how events have unfolded since my story was made public. I would also like to explain my reasoning for speaking out.

To begin, the administration at TMS was quickly made aware of The Roys Report article. I know because a TMS administrator called a pastor I know to discuss the article within an hour of the article’s publication.

The article then began circulating around TMS, as at least a dozen current seminary students reacted to the article both publicly and privately.

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Though many of the public posts attacked both Julie Roys and me, I received three emails that were supportive. Two were from fellow TMS students. Shockingly, one was from a leader at Grace Community Church, who’s very well respected there. 

The seminary, one the other hand, hasn’t responded at all—at least, not to me.

However, shortly after Julie’s article was released, the entire Master of Divinity program was inexplicably moved online for the month of January. If this move was taken as a step toward institutional correction, this was not announced to the students.

Unfortunately, even this significant adjustment didn’t translate to a school-wide reformation.

Just one week after the article’s publication, TMS held two in-person Doctor of Ministry courses—despite moving their M.Div. program online.

Photos from these two classes have been circulating on social media, showing students more distanced than they were in seminary classes I took this fall. Still, students are closer than six feet apart and no one is wearing masks. These pictures are so precarious that some have suggested they must have been taken pre-pandemic.

Master's Seminary
A photograph showing Dr. John MacArthur address Dr. Steven Lawson’s Doctor of Ministry class on January 11, 2021. This course was slated to run from January 6 – January 13.
Master's Seminary
A photograph showing Dr. Joel Beeke address his Doctor of Ministry class, which was slated for January 8 – January 11. This photograph was taken on January 11, 2021, in the Seminary’s Tower building
Master's Seminary
Another photograph of Dr. Beeke’s class, this time taken on January 8th and in Grace Church’s Gym, rather than the Seminary’s Tower Building.

So, as it stands, TMS has quietly moved to virtual classes—but only for its master’s degree program.

There’s been a notable lack of transparency that plagues both Grace Community Church and her seminary. As of now, no statement has been released regarding COVID-19 cases on campus, nor has the tragic passing of a TMS student been officially acknowledged as being COVID related.

Perhaps the seminary took January off to prepare sweeping campus reforms. But why no acknowledgement of past missteps? And why continue the Doctor of Ministry courses in-person without implementing protocols?

Even more perplexing, TMS has announced that on-campus instruction will resume on February 2nd. COVID-19 heath mandates were not mentioned in the email sent to students.

Master's Seminary

The seminary has also removed information regarding COVID-19 protocols from its webpage, although an outdated FAQ can still be accessed via a direct link.

As of January 22nd, TMS has announced a memorial service for the student who tragically died from COVID-19 on January 4th. He had contracted the virus in mid-December and suffered for weeks before passing away. This memorial service is set to take place on the Grace Community Church (GCC) campus, with all current seminary students invited, and no announced health protocols being implemented.

The campus-wide email indicated that there will be no public reception following the service, but failed to elaborate on the late student’s cause of death.

The flippancy regarding the pandemic doesn’t end there.

On January 29th, an email was sent to TMS students and leaders regarding the upcoming Shepherds’ Conference, a gathering of thousands of pastors from around the world on March 3-5 on the GCC campus.

Shepherds' Conference
Shepherds’ Conference is a yearly gathering of thousands of pastors from around the globe. It is held by Grace Community Church, which touts it as a time of, “equipping, fellowship, and refreshment.”

This email announced to current seminary students that they’d spend two Thursdays in February rehearsing for the “Shepherds’ Conference choir.”

Enrolled TMS students have traditionally been required to attend the conference and participate in the choir. An email sent from the student services coordinator to all students and leaders stated, “All on-campus TMS students will be rehearsing for the upcoming 2021 Shepherds’ Conference choir.”

Master's Seminary

On January 30, this email was followed up with another message from the student services coordinator, apparently in response to backlash from the first correspondence. This email stated that involvement in the Shepherds’ Conference choir is voluntary.

Master's Seminary

Despite this subsequent email being labeled as a “clarification,” it is far from clear in the first correspondence that choir participation was anything but mandatory. Even so, I doubt students will dare to miss rehearsals or the Shepherds’ Conference itself. Considering the climate of fear, intimidation and bullying I faced for merely following institutional and governmental health mandates, it seems unlikely.

With January being the deadliest month for COVID-19, the decision to assemble a choir twice in February is incomprehensible. This brings me to why I publicly shared my experience at TMS.

A comment left by the user “Rapid Roy” to the Jan. 6 Roys Report article summarizes my convictions well.

Although my story may appear shocking to some—being ridiculed for obeying health protocols and marginalized for my convictions—my desire was never to get an apology from TMS. I simply wanted to bring institutional issues to the school’s awareness so they could repent.

As I relayed to Julie Roys, my experience with TMS Dean of Faculty Nathan Busenitz was indeed a positive one. When I shared my concerns in November, he was apologetic, sympathetic, and compassionate, especially regarding my personal experience with abusive TMS faculty members. He’s aware there are significant issues at The Master’s Seminary, but feels his hands are tied because of GCC Pastor John MacArthur’s stance on COVID-19.

Even so, the bigger problem stands unanswered and unacknowledged. Institutional denial, deception, and dishonesty remain. As “Rapid Roy” stated, the underlying problem is character.

The Master’s Seminary is wittingly subverting its own COVID-19 mandates. The school is absolutely conscious that authorities could legally shut them down for flagrant violations of Los Angeles Department of Public Health guidelines.

Ultimately, institutions are comprised of people, and people make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. In this instance, the Seminary’s administration has indeed fallen short by resisting governing authorities (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13).

Even if you believe a seminary is somehow protected by the First Amendment, TMS is actively violating its own established rules. Health mandates and guidelines were posted on TMS’ website and emailed to students, yet disobeyed and ridiculed by faculty members.

How is this in accord with Biblical precepts of honesty, integrity, and truth (Proverbs 11:3; 1 Peter 3:10-12; Colossians 3:9, et. al.)?

Yes, we all sin. But what does it say about a Christian institution when it refuses to acknowledge missteps, doesn’t repent from wrongs, and buries its head into the sands of obduracy?

TMS has been aware of its institutional inconsistency for months. Although the school continues to deny COVID, TMS has never once denied the validity of my concerns.

Yet there’s no accountability, no repentance, no reform.

Is there still time for the Seminary to change? Yes, of course! God is gracious.

But one student has already died from COVID-19 and others are presumably sick. So what will it take? When will those who have been misled receive an apology?

The road to repentance certainly doesn’t involve hosting a potential super-spreader event like the Shepherds’ Conference on campus.

While some students have reached out acknowledging the validity of my grievances, others have stated that I’m attacking the church and seminary and suggested praying for my salvation. Apparently, salvation is now faith plus unquestioning loyalty to Grace Community Church. This is the insanity perpetuated by the actions of recalcitrant and unrepentant leaders.

On The Master’s Seminary’s private Yammer social media page, one student comments on my choice to go public with my story. This post was “liked” by several other current students.

Master's Seminary

I await an official statement from The Master’s Seminary. I also pray for the health of all my former classmates. May God protect them.

Austin DoucetteAustin Doucette works as a Student Ministries leader at Cornerstone Moorpark in California. He graduated from The Master’s University with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. He also was an M.Div. Student at The Master’s Seminary but is continuing his studies elsewhere.



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89 Responses

  1. I think the burr under many Christian leaders’ saddles is that while c-virus is touted as a pandemic in which the most extreme measures of lockdown and suspension of normal rights are justified, e.g. to question govt policy on Twitter, YouTube, etc., to freely assemble, to worship, etc., BLM and Antifa mass riots and plundering were condoned and supported. As a UW doctor and others proclaimed, “Racism is more dangerous than covid.” Mayors and Governors who ordered lockdowns stood arm-in-arm with protesters (social distancing anyone?). In the disorder, in about 32 targeted cities, murders and shootings skyrocketed as did property crimes. There were more under age 9 yrs old deaths from shootings in Chicago than from the c-virus: 92 to be exact. The vast majority being those Black lives that matter so much.

    So, one is left with a quandary. Either this is really a medical emergency worse than the Spanish flu, an imminent threat to our existence or it isn’t. You can’t have it both ways. Statistically, reported deaths from c-virus are clustered in the aged, over 70 and 80, and those with complicating diseases. The death rate for under 45 is almost non-existent. The total death rate in the U.S. from all causes was .8% in 2009 and every year going forward, including 2020. That’s right, the total death rate in 2020 is unchanged from the rate of the last decade–in the midst of a pandemic. The Spanish flu by contrast lowered actuarial life expectancy. The incidence of regular flu in the U.S. is abnormally low: 142 cases confirmed by the CDC lab by Jan 2021. In my state, zero cases of flu have been reported though Dec. Where are the 22,000 to 90,000 yearly flu deaths? Anyone who can do basic math has to say, “What is going on here? This makes no sense.”

    Then on top of all of this, the very leaders, government and medical, who are mandating the lockdown are traveling, spending time with extended family, and not wearing masks when they think the cameras are gone. And large numbers of medical workers are taking a pass on the vaccine. They think getting the virus is preferable.

    “Mixed message” is too weak a word; perhaps “cognitive dissonance” comes closer. Hence, the police move to break up a wedding or some people eating indoors at a cafe and stand by with their hands in their pockets as cities are burnt to the ground by crowds, and drive by casually as thugs shoot it out in the streets. People with functioning brains say, “This doesn’t make sense.”

    I disagree with MacArthur on so many things, e.g. his bitter, mean anti-supernaturalism, his reduction of faith to reasoned acceptance of Calvinism, and his arrogance and intolerance toward fellow Christian leaders. But I sympathize with him on his resistance to lockdown, the infantilizing of the masses, and the insane contradictory leadership of elites to the “pandemic.”

    What happened to “My body, my choice?”

    1. JB,

      I agree with a whole lot of what you wrote. Why are backyard parties, etc. unsafe but abortion clinic visits an “essential service”? Why were Trump rallies “superspreader events” but not left-wing protests? Why is left-wing rioting “mostly peaceful protest” and right-wing rioting “sedition”?

      If JMA made the decision to say “screw it, we’re holding indoor church anyway, we know the risks, we are adults here” and didn’t try to hide or deny his COVID cases (including his own), I would respect that 100%. I don’t respect his obfuscation/denial/outright lying campaign.

      You are right that we are all adults here and the government cannot nanny us. I was disgusted equally at the extremist steps taken to control us like little kids in the COVID pandemic by left-wing governors (travel bans, locking down small businesses but not big-box stores, banning gardening like Wretched Whitmer did or joyriding like Wolf in PA did–all the while keeping the porn stores and abortion clinics open) and the systematic campaign of data-fixing and lies taken by some red governors (like DeSantis in FL). There’s zero excuse not to require masks in public places but it’s stupid to try to control what people are doing in their own homes.

      So, in some ways I am a COVID hawk and in some ways a COVID dove–but no matter how you look at it, from the framework of Biblical conscience and universal standards of honesty, MacArthur’s behavior is disgusting and completely unChristlike.

  2. If you (1) love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, (2) love your neighbor as yourself, (3) follow the Biblical mandate to obey government laws which do not conflict with God’s laws, (4) obey God’s commands because you love him, and (5) understand the scientific reality that much of the COVID-19 spread occurs via asymptomatic vectors (people who feel and look healthy but are shedding virus 24/7), then you will wear a mask and follow state and federal government public health mandates out of love for your neighbor and respect for his or her “right to life.”

    You will do this because you don’t want to infect your neighbor with COVID-19, potentially causing him or her to experience any number of serious clinical outcomes including (but not limited to) limb amputation, kidney failure, lung failure, long-term neurological/physical deficits and/or death. You will take these actions because you would not want yourself, your sibling, your parent, your spouse, or your child to be fatally infected with COVID-19 by an asymptomatic “neighbor.”

    If you really viewed African, Asian, South American, and Middle-Eastern Christians around the world as your brothers and sisters in Christ, i.e., the ones who don’t look like you, then you would be praying for them as they experience martyrdom via gunshot, dismemberment, crucifixion, beheading, and any number of other barbaric acts of violence. You would grieve with the families of Christian martyrs, and empathize with living Christians who endure beatings, torture, sexual slavery, starvation, theft of property, and/or concentration-camp conditions at the hands of their persecutors. You would feel compassion for the African-American Christians whose churches have been burned in various states over the last four years, and whose fellow congregants were shot down in cold blood after welcoming a white supremacist, Dylan Roof, to their Bible study/prayer service. You would feel some degree of emotional pain for all of these brothers and sisters in Christ, and follow the Scriptural mandate in Ephesians to pray for them at all times, and give of your time, talents, and resources, to supply them with Bibles, liberation from prison or slavery, and access to sound Biblical teaching, along with the food, clothing, shelter, and medical care that they lack as a result of the persecutions which they have experienced.

    You would reflect on all of this as you think about Biblical submission to governmental authority and the fact that John MacArthur has repeated preached over the years about his view that Christians should think twice about asserting their “rights” as Americans when these “rights” conflict with the Biblical mandates to submit and to love. You would read MacArthur’s book, “Slave,” and wonder whether you’re really living as Christ’s slave when you are resisting a mask mandate in a country where the government is NOT restricting your ability to worship communally via technological means that few Christians elsewhere in the world have. You would ask yourself, “Am I really acting as Christ’s slave (obeying Him in everything while modeling his behavior) if I choose to resist a government mandate which is designed to save the lives of both unbelievers and Christians, and will extend the lives of some unbelievers, thus giving them more time to become Christians and avoid eternal damnation?”

    You would wonder, “How do Christians who experience persecution manage to fulfill the Biblical mandate to worship communally during a pandemic if they don’t have Zoom, conference-call capability, cell phones, or Facebook? How does God enable them to worship Him in spirit and in truth when they are in a North Korean concentration camp or are being held hostage after having been kidnapped by ISIS or Boko Haram? How do Christians in Islamic and Hindu countries manage to serve God if they must keep their faith in Christ secret to avoid becoming a victim of “honor killing” by a parent, sibling, or spouse?” Maybe we American Christians can learn something from these believers about worshiping Christ while experiencing extraordinary degrees of hardship which show, in contrast, that a government mask-wearing mandate doesn’t even qualify as a “light and momentary affliction.”

    You would study the compliance with mask-wearing and related public health mandates by Christians in persecuted countries, and ask yourself, “Why is a Christian who is willing to be shot, crucified, tortured, enslaved, etc., for his or her Christian witness willing to wear a mask during this pandemic?” You might conclude that these persecuted Christians realize that compliance with government’s public health mandates during a pandemic is a tangible way that we Christians can show the unbelieving world that we love our “neighbors” by respecting their “right to life.”

    Just a few thoughts: please forgive my typoz!

    1. You bring up some profound points. My only thoughts are two fold:

      One is Biblical and second is practical.

      1. The church is about edification of the saints. It’s ultimate purpose is the Glory of Christ/God. There was this church I visited years ago who for all intents and purposes was a persecuted church. Just by meeting they were breaking their government’s mandate. They fear God more than man. This government has killed this economy, caused fear, spread lies and have corruption on all sides. Which this is just the beginning. Persecution is coming to the church at the power of 10. I agree wearing a mask is not an affliction. There are two tracks going in the same direction. A. American Religious Freedom. B. Biblical mandates.
      2. A lot of what the government does not makes sense. When in the world I wear a mask (not because I am persecuted) because I am not trying to cause issues when I want them to see Jesus. There are a lot of studies by brilliant men on both sides that disagree on the effectiveness of mask wearing. Many of those who are recommending these precautions are not following the rules themselves. Maybe they know something we do not. There are also things (if you take fighting this c-19 to its logical conclusion) that make little to zero sense at all. If it did make sense and we were really concerned… We would be doing a lot more than social distancing and wearing masks. This virus is not just airborne. It’s possible to get it by touch surfaces, items at stores, doors, shopping carts, credit card machines and etc. It’s like a football game or Basketball game. The players and coaches on the sidelines or the bench must wear masks at all times. But while on the field or the court they do not wear one or social distance. This is they touch and breath on each other. It’s a microcosm of why things do not add up. But I do like your perspective, Rose. That’s my thoughts.

    2. Rose, I agree with so much of what you have said. So many believers around the world are suffering life threatening persecution.

      The nub of it all is in how much one trusts the government and health officials. Leading CDC doctors, like Dr. Birx, publicly pleaded with us all to stay home for Christmas, while she met with extended family at a vacation home. She’s caught. She pleads, “My poor aged parents were lonely.” This is just one example of many. Good for thee but not for me. Their contradictory signals haven’t given many of us a lot of confidence. Strip clubs can open, but churches must close. In my state, government construction workers may work, but private construction workers cannot. They have reversed course on recommendations time and time again. They still haven’t settled on how to count c-virus deaths since so many of those who have died have other serious diseases as well.

      If this was the African Ebola virus pandemic, they wouldn’t act like this. It killed quickly, in large numbers, and was easily transmitted in the air. Workers often wore the equivalent of hazmat suits with no flesh showing and carried their own air supply when working with patients. Now that’s a pandemic. Whatever this is, it’s not the equivalent of the Spanish flu, which lowered life expectancy 12 years, or Ebola.

      So, the short of it is that many, many people of all political persuasions don’t have much trust in the government or the media that provides information. CDC, it turns out, is not a slick, organized, health first organization, but an organization beset by politics, inefficiency, posturing, optics, and ineptitude. Truth is, despite all the wonderful movies portraying them as the expert organization for identifying and coordinating the treatment of exotic diseases, they weren’t ready for this. Biden talks of a “Dark Winter.” Officials are now alerting us to mutant strains. Of course, c-virus will mutate. All viruses do. There should be no surprise here. But officials are now talking about maybe having to lockdown through 2022. Remember in the Summer when Dr. Fauci was talking about bending the curve by the Fall through lockdowns so things could go back to normal. It was another empty prescription. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. That doesn’t build trust.

      The old proverb applies in the minds of many: The cure is worse than the disease. I fully understand the resistance and outright revolt among the young who are at so slight a risk. Children have a statistically zero death rate from c-virus.

      I fear that in the future, people will look back on this time as a time of mass hysteria. About six months ago, I think our policy should have shifted to a voluntary one. Those in the risk groups should have been advised to quarantine themselves, take reasonable precautions, and limit socializing. The rest of the folks should have been free to return to work, school, church, and normal activities.

      1. Covid-19 is sadly the deadliest pandemic that the world has seen in over 100 years. It may not seem like it because so many experience mild symptoms and there aren’t as visually disturbing/severe symptoms like Ebola. However, the widespread nature of it and ease of transmission has allowed it to kill roughly 400,000 Americans in just the first year. The Spanish Flu killed a higher percentage of the world population, but Covid-19 in some ways comes close to rivaling it.

        Our advances in medicine and technology have helped along with the implementation of preventative measures like masks, social distancing and avoiding large crowds which we would be foolish to fully deny (even during the Spanish Flu similar protocols were implemented). Masks help prevent respiratory droplets from spreading which is one mode of transmission. It doesn’t mean if you wear a mask you are fully protected, but they verifiably help prevent spread.

  3. Often I wonder whether it’s the hypocrisy of Ravi Z and his Board, the extreme authoritarianism of GCC and TMS leadership, and the hubris of James Mac which contributes to non-believers dismissing the truths of Christianity.

    What has happened to our Faith to have brought about such authoritarian leaders?

    May God have mercy ????

    1. It was decided around conference table(s). In the same way that what we wear is decided around conference tables on Madison Avenue. The objective was preservation of power and money. Doctrines and teachings have proliferated that imply if not state that anything but passive compliance and submission to authority is sin.

  4. Covid-19 is a Trojan horse battering ram

    – Not all Covid deaths, in fact the majority, are not actually Covid deaths – death due to Covid.
    – Covid-19 has not been distinguished from the flu or common cold at all.
    – PCR tests are run at CT (cycle thresholds) levels over 35 which purposely and knowingly results in a majority of false positives (cases)
    – Asymptomatic cases are a farce and have been proven to be an anomaly – if not outright fabrication – as far as the spread of COVID-19 is concerned. There are studies that prove as much.
    – if masks work they would contain the droplets and bring down the numbers. If this is actually an airborne based viral spread masks will probably do more harm than good.

    Here’s an article I wrote:

    Ms. Roys if you want a true investigative account on this virus I’d be happy to offer a more thorough and detailed account.

    Covid-19 is a sledgehammer to gratuitously usher in a multitude of unConstituional edicts – like the ones that have shut down businesses, drove many to suicide, and illegitimatized a presidential election.

  5. “ Dr. Ezike explained that anyone who passes away after testing positive for the virus is included in that category.

    “If you were in hospice and had already been given a few weeks to live, and then you also were found to have COVID, that would be counted as a COVID death. It means technically even if you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death. So, everyone who’s listed as a COVID death doesn’t mean that that was the cause of the death, but they had COVID at the time of the death.” Dr. Ezike outlined.

    She reiterated Illinois health officials will continue to work vigorously to protect the state’s most vulnerable populations.”

    1. I’m sorry but these are conspiracy theories. One of the reasons why there is so much misinformation amongst many Conservatives unfortunately is because they automatically shun anything from MSM and the entire education system; denying all the scientific/academic/medical research and knowledge along with it while turning to alternative sources from fringe groups who independently post online and typically are not as qualified and had not gone through the stringent peer review process like that of scientific journals.

      I think some skepticism is natural and healthy. It’s good to question things and then test them, however with the internet misinformation is easily spread instantly. There needs to be a better way to filter it besides censorship, but it’s a tough problem to solve because of the distrust and division.

      Masks help prevent respiratory droplets from spreading which is one mode of transmission (even during the Spanish Flu similar protocols were implemented). It doesn’t mean if you wear a mask you are fully protected, but they verifiably help prevent spread.

      1. You passed on so many points to focus on masks. Do me a favor, if you are around the sick and vulnerable, please don’t believe a flimsy fabric will keep them from getting infected if you are truly sick. These masks don’t have miraculous powers. In fact, Fauci willfully put people in danger of death early on in this pandemic by saying masks don’t work…. or do they? Trust the experts and don’t be surprised when they tell the truth once in a while. Those are the sources I’ve pounced on so people can’t say I’m ignoring msm. You may be listening but you aren’t truly hearing…..

        Stop talking points and learn to discern and engage. Provide sources that are free from bias and personal, ideological and financial gain. It’s not that hard.

        1. “Half were given surgical masks and told to wear them when leaving their homes; the others were told not to wear masks in public.

          At that time, 2% of the Danish population was infected — a rate lower than that in many places in the United States and Europe today. Social distancing and frequent hand-washing were common, but masks were not.

          About 4,860 participants completed the study. The researchers had hoped that masks would cut the infection rate by half among wearers. Instead, 42 people in the mask group, or 1.8%, got infected, compared with 53 in the unmasked group, or 2.1%. The difference was not statistically significant.

          “Our study gives an indication of how much you gain from wearing a mask,” said Dr. Henning Bundgaard, lead author of the study and a cardiologist at the University of Copenhagen. “Not a lot.”

          New study questions whether masks protect wearers; you need to wear them anyway(???) – By GINA KOLATA
          The New York Times

          1. Great comments AJ. The ability to discern information is imperative. Whenever I hear the same vernacular such as the following “conspiracy theories,misinformation, the fringe, studies show and have been debunked.” My concern is please show facts, data, evidence, objectivity and in our context biblical reasoning.

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