There have been reports of spiritual abuse and abuse of power at Bethlehem Baptist Church—the church John Piper pastored for over 30 years. Three pastors have resigned. Hundreds of members have left. But why?
Joining me for this important episode of The Roys Report are Steve and Janette Takata—a couple who unwittingly found themselves at the epicenter of the storm at this prominent Minnesota church.
Steve Takata was a longtime member at Bethlehem, who had attended the church since grade school, and whose father sits on the elder board. Janette had been attending Bethlehem since 2003, before she and Steve resigned their membership this summer.
For many years, the Takatas enjoyed rich fellowship and teaching at the church. But over the past few years, they had become increasingly concerned about the church’s handling of race issues and treatment of women. And on January 31, 2021, they raised their concerns in two motions at a meeting of the church.
These motions set off a chain-reaction that eventually led three pastors to resign from the church, including Pastor Jason Meyer, successor to John Piper.
Is the turmoil at Bethlehem simply the result of different theological and political convictions between current and former pastors, elders, and members? Or, as the Takatas and others have charged, is it the result of spiritual abuse and manipulation on the part of Bethlehem leadership?
In this episode, the Takatas give a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the events at Bethlehem in 2021. They also share documents and audio that, until now, have never been published.
Steve and Janette Takata
JULIE ROYS, ANDY NASELLI, JANETTE TAKATA, PASTOR DOUG WILSON, JOE RIGNEY, STEVE TAKATA
JULIE ROYS 00:05
There have been reports of spiritual abuse and abuse of power at Bethlehem Baptist Church, the church John Piper pastored. for over 30 years. Three pastors have resigned hundreds of members have left but why? Welcome to The Roys report a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys, and joining me today is a couple, Steve, and Janette Takata, who unwittingly found themselves at the epicenter of the storm at Bethlehem. Steve Takata is a longtime member who had attended Bethlehem Baptist since grade school and whose father sits on the elder board. Jeanette has been attending Bethlehem since 2003, when she moved to Minneapolis to complete an internship. For many years the Takatas enjoyed rich fellowship and teaching at the church. But over the past few years, they have become increasingly concerned about the church’s handling of race issues, its treatment of women, and the relationship between the church and its associated ministries, especially Bethlehem College and Seminary. But the Takatas were not alone in their concerns. Unbeknownst to them, there had been two investigations the previous summer. One involved allegations of a toxic environment at Bethlehem College and Seminary. Those allegations were dismissed when the investigation found no evidence of any unlawful actions by the College and Seminary. Another investigation allegations of spiritual abuse by Bethlehem College and Seminary professor, Andy Naselli, who’s also an elder at Bethlehem Baptist. That investigation also ended in the school dismissing the allegations against Naselli. According to my guests none of these developments were announced to the church. So, with these issues, and others you’ll hear about in just a moment, simmering beneath the surface, the Takatas proposed two motions at a church meeting on January 31 of last year. And boom, it was like a bomb went off. You’ll hear what happened in just a moment. And now I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington. Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to Judsonu.edu. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity, and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt are men of character. To check them out. Just go to buyacar123.com. Well, again, joining me are Steve and Jeanette Takata, both former longtime members of Bethlehem Baptist Church. But as I mentioned, much has changed in this past year. And I know, it’s been an extremely rough year for both of you. So, thank you so much for being willing to come on this podcast.
JANETTE TAKATA 03:03
Thanks for having us.
STEVE TAKATA 03:04
JULIE ROYS 03:05
So, Steve and Janette, your story isn’t just your story. It really exposes a how Bethlehem Baptist Church treats people who come to them and have grievances. It also shows how the church responds to complaints about elders. And so, we’re going to be talking a lot about personal matters and things that happened with you and your situation. But again, a big part of the reason that I wanted to bring you on was because I feel like it’s so indicative of what you allege, and many others have alleged is a larger pattern. And I want to mention too, that I have reached out to the elders numerous times and asked for them to interview with me, asked for comments. I haven’t gotten any on the record comments. And I did reach out to Andy Naselli, who is going to be featured in this podcast and asked if he would like to interview. So far, he has not responded to me at all. So that invitation has been extended. So, what I’d like to do is back up to the weeks and months before this really, what turned out to be a very cataclysmic meeting, on January 31. And at that time, as I’m understanding, you had a growing sense of discomfort with some things at the church, and it was in relation to three areas, ethnic harmony, race relations, and then how the Church and its associated ministries, how they related to each other. So, Steve, let me just start with you in that area of ethnic harmony. What were some of the concerns that you had about the way that the church was handling that?
STEVE TAKATA 04:47
For a long time, Bethlehem has had one of their emphases as a church be racial reconciliation or ethnic harmony. But I think for a long time there has been limited diversity in the leadership of our church. There was a group of members that we were familiar with, that had brought these concerns to the elder council, and it formed, what was known then or what was developed as an Ethnic Harmony Taskforce. We had learned just through sort of personal acquaintances that they were looking to identify, are there root problems? are there barriers that make it difficult for people of color to be considered to be a part of the leadership of the church?
JULIE ROYS 05:36
And that ethnic harmony task force, that kind of resolved without people knowing about it, or what the outcome was? I mean, is that correct? the church was kind of in the dark as to what actually happened, is that correct?
STEVE TAKATA 05:50
Yeah, the only things that we knew about the ethnic harmony task force was because we had friends that were a part of the group. We had heard enough to know that these were members that had gone to the elder council directly, and said, we have some questions, we have some concerns. And as we understood, at the time that that task force was created, the elder council unanimously voted to form this task force. And then we also understood that members and elders from all three of Bethlehem’s campuses participated in this ethnic harmony Task Force. And then later, we found out that the task force had been disbanded. And very limited, or almost no information was publicly presented from the church, about the things that the task force found or didn’t find.
JULIE ROYS 06:45
And Janette, your concerns, I’m sure you’ve shared the concerns that Steve had as well with ethnic harmony. But there’s also concerns in the area of women. So, what were your concerns in that area?
JANETTE TAKATA 06:58
So, I co led ministry at the downtown campus for six years. We were structurally underneath the Minister for Women. And in those six years, we pretty much had a different Minister for Women every single year. There were no female deacons at the downtown campus. There was very rarely a woman praying on stage or reading scripture. And you could see the vacancy of women in even volunteer roles of leadership on a Sunday morning.
JULIE ROYS 07:33
And then there was a very explosive podcast, a man rampant it’s called. It’s one done by very controversial Pastor Doug Wilson, who happens to be a mentor of Joe Rigney, who now is the president of Bethlehem College and Seminary. This man rampant episode was called the sin of empathy. And I’ve listened to it, I can understand why women especially would be concerned. But I think even just the topic of the sin of empathy, calling empathy, which I think most of us consider a beautiful thing that that humans do, you know, enables us to relate to someone else and understand them, was labeled a sin. And so, I want to play just a clip of that, because I know that also provided the pretext of what happened at this January 31. Meeting. So, take a listen.
JOE RIGNEY 08:31
The Bible commands us to be sympathetic because it’s compassion, right? So, sympathy and compassion are the same. It’s the same word. So, they, one’s Latin one’s Greek, and it means to suffer with. And empathy is this more modern term is like invented in like the 20th century. It’s not like this ancient word or this old, older thing. It’s invented in the 20th century, and it means to suffer in. So that’s kind of the key, like linguistic deal. And I think most people then would say, well, if you if you have the choice between just suffering with someone, or suffering in them, like really, that there’s a sense of we really get into somebody, we really enter into their pain and they’re drowning, you are going headlong into the river with them. Exactly. You dive in there, and you’re all in. And we think this is better. This is a better virtue. This is more virtuous than mere sympathy because sympathy kind of feels like pity. And nobody likes to feel pitied. We don’t want people to feel bad.
PASTOR DOUG WILSON 09:26
Sympathy feels like you’ve got your foot on the shore, reaching a handout.
JOE RIGNEY 09:29
That’s exactly right.
PASTOR DOUG WILSON 09:30
Acting better than they are.
JOE RIGNEY 09:31
That’s right. And I think that actually is the most relevant difference between them. Because so empathy is the sort of thing that you’ve got someone drowning, or they’re in quicksand, and they’re sinking. And what empathy wants to do is jump into the quicksand with them both feet, and it feels like that’s going to be more loving, because they’re going to feel like I’m glad that you’re here with me in the quicksand. Problem is you’re both now sinking, right? Right. Whereas if you do, I’m gonna keep one foot on the shore and I’m actually gonna grab onto this big branch, and then I’ll step one foot in there with you and try to pull you out. That’s sympathy. And that’s, that’s actually helpful. But to the person who’s in there, it can feel like you’re judging me.
PASTOR DOUG WILSON 10:12
So, sympathy is clearly hierarchical.
JOE RIGNEY 10:15
Right. It implies that one person is the hurting, and one person is the helper.
JULIE ROYS 10:20
What concerned you about this particular podcast?
JANETTE TAKATA 10:24
two things really rose to the surface beyond the clip that you shared. And one is that women are not regarded as credible, they’re emotionally manipulative, they might be telling the truth if they’re claiming abuse, but they might but. And so that really bothered a lot of women that I had talked to. I didn’t hear anyone say, I actually agree with this, from a woman’s perspective. And so, there was a rumbling of us from that perspective. The second thing was that Bethlehem had hosted an abuse seminar called Recognizing and Responding to Abuse on June 1 of that same year. And when I heard that sin of empathy episode, contrasted with a two-day conference at Bethlehem that I attended on how to recognize and respond to abuse, the two stand in stark contrast.
JULIE ROYS 11:22
And this gets into another issue that you were bringing up because here you have a President, at the time that the episode came out, Joe Rigney wasn’t the president of Bethlehem College and Seminary, but then he became the president. And it’s like, is now Bethlehem because the school is associated with Bethlehem, is it endorsing what he said there? Do we need to separate from it? And so that kind of brings us to the motions that you brought on January 31. And this was at something called a quarterly strategic meeting, or QSM. We’re gonna use that term QSM, so people should be aware of it. But Bethlehem has more than 40 Elders. But the final word on things is the congregation, or at least in theory, that’s how it’s supposed to be. And so, you have these quarterly meetings where you hear motions, and you vote on them. And so, you decided to bring some motions. One, Steve, your motion related to the ethnic harmony task force and what happened there. Would you just say what your motion was?
STEVE TAKATA 12:28
My motion was, I don’t have the exact text in front of me. But it was, I move that the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church release the full unedited reports from the ethnic harmony taskforce that were created in the following year. And these reports shall be released by such and such a date.
JULIE ROYS 12:54
This motion of the two motions, you are kind of thinking this might be the more explosive, we’re talking racial issues in Minnesota of all places where it’s extremely tense, this would probably be the one that would generate the most heat. Surprisingly, it didn’t from my understanding, correct?
JANETTE TAKATA 13:14
I asked Steve to go first. I thought the motion that I was going to bring up would be around a topic that was largely unknown. It would be a quick up or down vote, either people are aware, and they vote based on their awareness or they’re not aware and they vote based on any conversation about the motion, one way or another.
JULIE ROYS 13:35
So, describe what your motion was.
JANETTE TAKATA 13:38
So, my motion was requesting that the elders of Bethlehem make a written public statement separating the views of Dr. Joe Rigney in man rampant season one episode 1, the sin of empathy, from the views and teachings of Bethlehem Baptist Church. And such a statement should be made, I think it was no later than May 31, 2021, the day before Dr. Rigney assumes office as president of BCS.
JULIE ROYS 14:05
And I have described the response as like a bomb went off. I don’t think I’m being overdramatic there. But you describe what happened and what was the impact.
JANETTE TAKATA 14:18
I learned later that you’re not supposed to speak to your motion first. You’re supposed to give the motion and then speak to it. And we did it backwards. So, we spoke to why we were bringing the motion and then stated the motion. And while the clerk and audio-visual team were trying to get the motion in written form on the large screen, so all three campuses, the chair elder said you can speak to your motion so I gave a little bit more background. And then what happens is each campus because this QSM was live streamed to two other campuses. So, you’re permitted to speak to a motion, kind of in a merry go round cycle starting with the North Campus, then downtown than South. And one person can speak. And then that allows equal opportunity for all three campuses to participate in the discussion. So, I spoke to my motion, I sat down, and then it was North campuses turn first.
JULIE ROYS 15:14
JANETTE TAKATA 15:14
And Andy Naselli got up and essentially said three sentences and sat down and there was complete silence.
JULIE ROYS 15:23
So, Andy Naselli is an elder at North Campus. He’s also a Bethlehem College and Seminary professor. But I would say he’s not just a Bethlehem College and Seminary professor. He had position of prominence — or has, a position of prominence there. And I think the school, following John Piper resigning not just as the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist, but also I believe he’s the Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. You know, he’s stepping back from his role. And so, in a way, Andy was, as I’ve talked to a lot of students, the one to sort of fill those shoes at the college and seminary as Jason Meyer was sort of the one at the church who filled that preaching role that John Piper had held. So, him speaking carries a lot of weight, he gets up. And the three sentences he utters are . . .
JANETTE TAKATA 16:22
I am the author of the review that I had cited, it’s the five-star review. And he names himself as a professor of New Testament theology and a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. So, his Amazon Prime profile links him directly to the church, but not to the college and seminary. So, he says, I’m that person who wrote that reveal, I’m speaking against this motion, and if this motion passes, I will resign as an elder.
JULIE ROYS 16:49
And what was the effect of that statement?
STEVE TAKATA 16:53
I think, to me, just sitting in the room, was shocked. I don’t understand this reaction. I don’t understand. putting yourself out there as a leader, and using your position as a leader to say, I’m going to quit if this motion doesn’t go the way I think it should. In a sense, it put everybody back on their heels, like, what just happened?
JULIE ROYS 17:20
It kind of concludes with this up in the air. It’s not like there’s a vote taken on the motion, is that correct?
STEVE TAKATA 17:26
Yeah, part of what happened was a woman at the South Campus that got up next and said, ah, hang on a second. I’ve got a question for Andy, like, what do you what do you mean by that? And he gets back up to the microphone, and says a few more clarifying things, gives a couple of points from the episode as explanation for why he would disagree with the motion, and then reiterates that he would resign if the motion passed.
JANETTE TAKATA 18:01
I recall him saying something to the effect of the way that this discussion is going, is exactly what the episode is talking about. And because I had seen the episode I immediately resonated with; he’s calling me an emotional manipulator. That’s, that is exactly what I heard. When he related the discussion to the episode, is hold up, don’t have empathy with Jeanette. She is trying to use emotions to get the congregation to vote in a particular way. When an elder says I’m going to resign if this motion passes, who’s going to pass that motion? Nobody wants to be responsible for his resignation.
JULIE ROYS 18:45
So, after this meeting, I’m guessing you guys are somewhat in shell shock in that week after, did many people reach out to you or what was the buzz like?
JANETTE TAKATA 18:56
A couple people that night said thank you. It was tabled. And we were assured as a congregation that we would take it up at the next meeting. So that’s where it left. Then the next morning, Steve started emailing pastors, and I was still in shock.
JULIE ROYS 19:14
You didn’t find out about this till much later. But Andy sent an email to all of the elders, and you then got a copy of it, which I’ve read, you’ve read, obviously. And in it, he does state that he regrets threatening to resign at the QSM meeting. And he apologizes for doing that, kind of recognizing that wasn’t a helpful thing. But then he states, there are “left leaning folks who are virtually unappeasable in the church.” And then he mentioned some of your Janette Facebook and blog posts; one that divulged that you voted Democrat in 2020. So let me just stop there and let you respond to that. I mean, Janette how do you feel about being characterized that way? but also, I know there’s a whole bunch of people listening. And this is a big part of why we’re doing this podcast, who are just really confused, because they’re like, okay, clearly there were some ideological differences going on here. But then there’s abuse and all this other stuff. You know, was this really just an ideological difference between you, who is more left leaning, as he puts it, and conservatives at the church?
JANETTE TAKATA 20:26
Well, keep in mind, we didn’t know what he was saying at the time. You know, all we had was what was public. And that’s still all that the church has. So, this podcast is going to help reveal a lot more of the things that happened behind the scenes. Wow! Left leaning? Great! Right leaning, forward, leaning backwards, like, why does that matter in my standing before Christ? And unappeasable?
JULIE ROYS 20:57
Does Andy know you? Did he know you at that point at all?
JANETTE TAKATA 21:01
No, not at all. We later learned that he was given that Facebook post, which is public, it’s on a public setting. And it’s still there because I won’t remove it. He was shown that by a member of the church, and he took that Facebook post, that he disagrees with, and did not come to me. And neither did that member. And he took it to Jason Meyer.
STEVE TAKATA 21:28
At the time, he was the pastor for preaching and vision at the downtown campus
JULIE ROYS 21:34
Which is the campus you attend.
STEVE TAKATA 21:35
JANETTE TAKATA 21:36
And so later we learned members would say, I have a problem with how you responded at the January 31 QSM, or the email that you’ve sent out with your apology. Can we talk? He made prolific offers to meet with people, and in doing so was when he would bring up this Facebook post of mine. And he mischaracterized what Jason’s response was. So, Jason’s response was, we don’t discipline our members over how they vote. Andy’s characterization of what Jason said was, I’m on it.
JULIE ROYS 22:09
How do you know that?
JANETTE TAKATA 22:10
I didn’t find out until Andy met with a member for one of these, you know, reconciliation type meetings. And the member’s wife sent me a text and said, did you disobey a pastor? And did you disparage people on Facebook?
JULIE ROYS 22:28
Okay, let’s table that because we are going to get to that discussion. Because I know that’s, that’s a big part of how this this thing unfolded.
JANETTE TAKATA 22:35
But back to how did I feel about that? We don’t sign anything and our membership commitments to vote a certain way to lean a certain way. That really shouldn’t have been a disciplinable offense for me to write a Facebook post on how I voted, and to call me unappeasable? Very uncharitable judgment.
JULIE ROYS 22:53
So, Andy then explains in this letter to the elders, why your motion Jannette, is concerning to him. “It is not a motion that edifies. It is more like a grenade launching.” And this is a term he will use in another meeting, which we’ll get to. The attitude behind the motion is disrespectful to the elders and “Too easily offended or hurt the very issue that Rigney addresses in the Sin of Empathy.” And then he says the motion drives a wedge between BBC and BCS, Bethlehem College and Seminary, “Once she made that motion, I resolved that we must not give in. Her motion attempts to drive a wedge between Bethlehem Baptist Church and Bethlehem College and Seminary.” Again, you didn’t find out about this letter to the elders until about four months, I think after it was sent. Obviously, you don’t like the characterizations that were made of you in that letter. But also, it’s my understanding that before you even made the motion, so this idea that you were disrespectful to elders, before you even made this motion, didn’t you go to the elders and seek their input?
STEVE TAKATA 24:08
Yes. In advance of the January QSM, probably around the beginning of the year, we had a zoom call with two of our pastors downtown, asking for some feedback.
JULIE ROYS 24:21
And did any of them say this is a really bad idea, don’t do it?
JANETTE TAKATA 24:25
We were asked, would you bring it just to the downtown campus? And our reply was, we can’t because we’ve been told you can’t bring any new business to a campus specific meeting. Because it could deleteriously affect the other two campuses. You vote on something binding, and they’re not even aware.
JULIE ROYS 24:44
And did the elder understand that and agree that that was necessary?
JANETTE TAKATA 24:49
JULIE ROYS 24:49
JANETTE TAKATA 24:50
And that later was used against us that we disobeyed him, because he told us not to do it, or asked us not to do it.
JULIE ROYS 24:56
So that would be an unfair characterization of what happened.
JANETTE TAKATA 25:00
JULIE ROYS 25:01
Andy then sends a letter to the full congregation at Bethlehem. And it’s different than the elder letter. It does have a similar apology. But it also offers what seems like a justification for what he did. And then he kind of reiterates it. And I will quote from that letter, he said, “I didn’t intend to make a threat or to make a power play, I intended to convey that I steadfastly refused to be part of what I perceived to be a kind of ‘Cancel Culture’, and that if my fellow pastors would endorse such an approach, and I highly doubt they would, I would not be able to serve alongside them in a good conscience any longer. It’s my fault for not speaking with helpful clarity in the moment. I shared a conclusion without clearly explaining reasons that I am not in favor of emotion. And I regret it.” How did that apology, strike the both of you?
STEVE TAKATA 25:56
A couple of things that stand out to me. One was an inaccurate representation of our intent in bringing this motion. I made it very clear from the microphone at the QSM that this motion is not in any way to cancel Joe Rigney. We made it very clear, explicitly clear, our intent is for a statement, separating the views, not denouncing the views, not endorsing the views. These are words that I used at the QSM. Our intent in this motion is to say, Joe Rigney believes this thing, and Bethlehem Baptist Church may or may not believe these things, there’s a separation. The main other thing that stood out to me from that letter was not only reiterating his own personal position, and that he would resign, but putting the entire elder council behind him in effect. I don’t agree with this. And I doubt the rest of the elders would either.
JULIE ROYS 27:04
Which sounds like he’s speaking for the rest of the elders.
STEVE TAKATA 27:07
It sounds like he is placing the entire weight of the elder council on his side, saying that this is the only right way to view this thing. And that’s the other thing that stood out to me as so concerning, was, aren’t all of us filled with the Holy Spirit? Aren’t all believers indwelt by the living God, and have the ability and the opportunity to come before the throne? And speak truth and discern truth? Why is it that it appears as though only the elder council has the right view on this matter?
JULIE ROYS 27:44
So, I did mention that some of these same themes come up again, but this isn’t in something that was public to everybody in the church, but a meeting at Bethlehem College and Seminary, of the the faculty and staff. This was on February 10. So, this is the next day after sending this apology. Andy gets up, and I have audio of that meeting, and I’m going to play it. But before I do, he mentioned somebody in this clip, Jonathan Bowers. Jonathan Bowers was a teacher at Bethlehem College and Seminary for 10 years or more. So, he resigned, saying that there was a toxic culture there. And I’m curious how much of that I know John Piper, at some point responded to Jonathan’s allegation that there was a toxic culture there. How much did you know about what happened with Jonathan, at this point?
JANETTE TAKATA 28:37
Very little. So, we’re really good friends with the Bowers. Our youngest, their oldest have gone to school together. But keep in mind that there is such a high regard by members to honor the Lord in what we do. We believe when we sign the relational commitments with covenant membership, that that’s because we’re trying to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ. So even if the Bowers shared some stuff with us, they really didn’t share personal things. So, we would not have seen did not see John Piper’s email that was only shared internally to BCS.
JULIE ROYS 29:15
Oh, interesting. Okay.
STEVE TAKATA 29:17
We were at least aware that Jonathan had resigned from BCS and that it didn’t appear to be a amicable parting of ways.
JULIE ROYS 29:28
I bring that up because again, this is mentioned in a brief statement really that Andy makes, but he does reveal how he feels about Jonathan Bowers because he likens Bowers to an enemy who launches a grenade because he says your motion Jeanette was ‘Jonathan Bowers 2.0’. And then he likens his response at the January 31 meeting to ‘jumping on a grenade’. So again, we see that term reprised. But there are things in this clip that also seems to frame you as a threat Janette, I mean, again, referring to some Facebook posts, but also Andy shares what sounds like personal pastoral type information, which I understand is incorrect, but I’ll let you talk about it after we play it. But then he says at the very beginning, you can almost miss this. But he says, I don’t want a paper trail for this comment, which seems to indicate that maybe he realizes this is not a thing that should be said publicly before however many staff and faculty of Bethlehem College and Seminary are there. So, I’m going to play it and then we can discuss.
ANDY NASELLI 30:37
I don’t want to write this out, because I don’t want a paper trail for this comment. But I wanted to share with you what was going through my mind at the meeting. Another member sent me a Facebook post by Janette Takata. I had never met, I’ve never met her still. I’ve offered to meet with her. So that was my first exposure. It was kind of inflammatory, “Oh!” — that kind of Facebook post, which is kind of like calling out John Piper and John MacArthur and Wayne Grudem, Al Mohler as being bad. Wow! So, I said to Jason Meyer, I said Hey, I don’t know this person. Looks like she’s a downtown member. He’s like, I think I think she and her husband are on their way out of the church, he said. Oh, okay, so that’s all I knew about her. So then in the meeting, hi, my name is Karla. Like, it kind of goes up. And then I start to hear the motion. And I’m like, this is Jonathan Bauer2.0, to point out what he did in here and walked out. So, I thought, I’m gonna go jump on the grenade. That’s, that’s about all fine. I wish I could redo it. But that’s some of what was going on in the back of my head.
JULIE ROYS 31:48
So, Janette, how does it feel to hear an elder of yours, a shepherd, talk about you in this way publicly? Which at this point, again, have you had any conversations?
JANETTE TAKATA 32:00
He says in that clip that he’s offered to meet with me, which was true, and we were getting it on the calendar to be able to meet together. He doesn’t remember an interaction that we had, and it’s irrelevant. So according to his own words, he didn’t know me. And there’s so many of the basic membership commitments in the church covenant, that he’s violated in this one- or two-minute clip. And it’s just another example of how members are held to a higher standard than even our elders, which is biblically opposite.
JULIE ROYS 32:39
Well, and let me mention that that relational commitment, because that comes up a number of times, and it encourages members to follow Matthew 18, which says, go to the person and you know, one on one, then if they don’t listen to you bring another person and then if they still won’t listen to you bring it before the whole church, which I wish churches would distinguish between that which deals with personal offenses, and I Timothy 5:20, which deals with elders who are sinning. Totally different thing that you’re supposed to do with elders who are sinning. You’re supposed to publicly expose them, so that others may stand in fear. So, if you have a problem with an elder sinning or something like that you absolutely may go to the church or to leadership. And it’s not necessarily following a Matthew 18 process. But again, that’s what you’re referring to is this relational commitment, which you’re admonished numerous times to follow. But he isn’t necessarily.
STEVE TAKATA 33:35
The simplified phrase from our relational commitments is, we will talk to one another, not about one another. And this is the opposite of what that plainly worded statement would call for. Andy is in the presence of I’m not sure how many people in this room at Bethlehem College and Seminary, talking about my wife, not talking to her.
JANETTE TAKATA 34:00
So, in addition to not following the relational commitments, you’ll hear culture war type language – grenade, blow up, and then he just left. And all of this wasn’t known to us at the time. We were just trying to be faithful in walking forward each step of the way. We did not know about this conversation at all until March 15. And that was after we had submitted grievances of specific sins against Andy Naselli or directly to him.
JULIE ROYS 34:36
And this statement that he makes that you were on your way out of the church, any truth to that?
JANETTE TAKATA 34:42
That was a private conversation between myself and pastor who is named in that. And we were talking about what the next year would hold and I privately said to him, this would be my last year co leading a ministry. My oldest will be a senior and we would pursue possibly looking at a different church that was more diverse because of the ethnic makeup of my family. It was a possible thing. And I was committing to as long as I’m here at this church, I am 100% in. And when that conversation happened in August, none of this was on the radar. That was before Jonathan Bowers even resigned in October. So that conversation between member and pastor was number one should have been elder privileged. And number two was way before any of this. So again, it just keeps getting taken out of context, in a way that’s defamatory to me. And the other thing I just want to say is, I mean, there’s a there’s a beauty in hindsight that we don’t get in the moment, which I’m really grateful for, because had I known all of these things in real time, I probably would have lost my mind and not handled this remotely close to kind. But Bethlehem College and Seminary did, in fact, have an investigation into illegal workplace culture, toxic workplace culture. And when I listen to this clip, I think, wow! nothing illegal happened in that moment, but I was shamed at the January QSM, I was made an example of. You bring a motion, and an elder is gonna speak against it and threaten to resign. Who wants to ever bring a motion again? And then he disparages me in Bethlehem College and Seminary faculty and staff meeting and Jonathan Bowers. He is making an example of both a member and a former colleague. Don’t you dare! So sure, nothing illegal happened. But does it mean that there’s not a toxic workplace environment? And when he says, I don’t want a paper trail? Then everybody in that room knows, don’t you repeat what I’m saying right now. There were elders that are on faculty and staff, there are elders in that room that heard that conversation. And they never had a problem with it.
JULIE ROYS 36:56
They’re not the ones that reported it. As I understand Daniel Kleven, who was on staff there, is the one who did report this, and even went to Andy and Andy did eventually offer an apology.
JANETTE TAKATA 37:09
That was on April 15, after we went before the entire elder council.
JULIE ROYS 37:13
So, all of these things are happening. Again, you don’t know about the BCS meeting at the time it happened. But you did learn about a private conversation that Andy had with some members at the church. Would you explain how you learned of that conversation? And what was relayed to you happened during that conversation?
JANETTE TAKATA 37:34
I got a text message from a friend who asked if I disobeyed a pastor by bringing the motions and what horrible things I said on Facebook. And she wasn’t even clear. Was it about Andy Naselli? was it about Douglas Wilson? Was it about Joe Rigney? What had I said? She was really concerned that I had sinned and wanted to go to me right away and check in on me and see what happened. I was totally shocked. And I’m like, I haven’t said anything about them on Facebook. And so, I wound up scrubbing my page, through a search function, just to see have I ever talked about Douglas Wilson? have ever talked about Joe Rigney? have ever talked about Andy Naselli? what could she possibly be talking about? I did know what she was referencing in disobeying a pastor, and I was able to quickly refute that.
JULIE ROYS 38:37
What was she referencing?
JANETTE TAKATA 38:39
If the pastor’s that we met with prior to bringing the motions had asked us or told us not to bring the motions. It was a conversation between her husband and Andy. Her husband was concerned about what he said at the QSM and in his apology email. And so, Andy made prolific offers to meet with anyone, and this husband took him up on it and met with him and he used that time instead of talking about his own heart, to disparage myself and Jonathan Bowers. This member later said it sounded like it was a rehearsed speech. And then when we found the situation at the college and seminary’s faculty and staff meeting, in July of this year, I was told that happened to other members.
JULIE ROYS 39:22
When you say it, you mean Andy said similar things. And just to be specific, he alleged that and the reason I’m saying this is because he admits this later on. So, this isn’t just the second hand or third hand report where we’re talking about here. He later admits that he did this, that he told people that Jason Myers had told you not to bring this motion and you were disobeying Jason Meyer by bringing the motion to the table on January 31.
JANETTE TAKATA 39:50
Yes, and he mentions my Facebook post to people.
JULIE ROYS 39:53
Did Andy ever accuse you to your face or talk to you to your face about these?
JANETTE TAKATA 39:57
Never once. Never once
JULIE ROYS 40:00
So, what was the impact?
JANETTE TAKATA 40:02
Its broke relationships. Because an elder’s word was believed over a member. We were never given an opportunity to defend ourselves. I mean, my friend texted me, but others took his word as truth. I eventually counted at least three occasions in four months, January to April, where Andy repeated something that happened. What he heard happened in a private meeting. And his mischaracterization was taken as the truth over the actual pastor and actual church member who were in the direct conversation themselves. So, his hearsay and his misrepresentation of hearsay, was taken as truth against firsthand accounts of the people that were in the conversations.
JULIE ROYS 40:54
Well, this concludes part one of our podcast on what really happened at Bethlehem Baptist Church. In part two, you’ll hear actual audio of what was billed as a peacemaker meeting between Steve and Janette Takata and Andy Naselli. In that meeting, Andy says he regrets certain behaviors, but he adds that he can’t apologize and ask forgiveness for those behaviors, because he didn’t intentionally sin against the Takatas.
ANDY NASELLI 41:17
It would be so relieving to just say please forgive me for XYZ and shake hands or hug and move on. But I am afraid that if I did that, at this point, I would be lying to make peace. I can’t do that. Cuz, I have zero, ill intent against you.
JULIE ROYS 41:40
In part two, you’ll also hear how the elders at Bethlehem responded to the many grievances brought by the Takatas and others. You’ll also hear how the elders responded when the Takatas asked for an independent investigation. Again, these are not just personal issues between the Takatas and Bethlehem, but as the Takatas allege, their evidence of a much larger pattern of spiritual abuse and protection at the church. Thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to connect with me online, just go to Julieroys.com. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcasts, Spotify, or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.
This transcript and source audio was updated to correctly state the position that John Piper has held at Bethlehem College and Seminary.
33 thoughts on “What Happened at Bethlehem Baptist Church? Part 1”
Hi, Julie. My take- away quote is, “The elder’s word was believed above a parishioner’s.” Maybe our ethical expectations of elders and pastors are unrealistically high. I say this because if a parishioner complains, the elder board typically circles wagons around the pastor, and around each other. Self-protection and clique-like preferential treatment seem to be all too common. Bottom line: Try to hold a pastor or an elder accountable, and you’ll typically be on the fast track out the door. That’s not much of an advertisement for church membership in elder-run churches, is it?
Seems like a good time to review some of the qualifications for the office of elder. From 1 Tim 3:
and from Titus 1:
If I understand the situation correctly, and it seems this is the case here, one elder’s opinion conveyed on what a member should do does not equal disobedience or insubordination if a member makes a choice to do otherwise. Yes, if an elder gives advice, it should be given due consideration, taken very seriously, etc. But, exactly what is this “pastoral authority?” It just seems here to be too much like the good ole boys club and if you stay in line with our parameters and “respect” our wisdom, then all is well. But if you don’t, then you are a threat, etc. And all this is a powerful tactic because very few believers want to be “disobedient” or regarded as “the problem.”
That “mistake” of the Takatas seems like the root of all the other things that happened to them – the being “talked about” rather than being “talked to.” They committed a near Cardinal sin. And having done that they “deserved” to be treated the way they were. Once marked as divisive (even though not warned more than once, not talked to personally, the divisiveness not truly substantiated, etc.), they don’t have to be treated as believers or given the benefit of the doubt on anything, nor do they have any rights. So, no matter how many years or how significant their involvement, there are lines you don’t cross. They went “too far.”
It is all very sad and it is something that is all too common because of how we view pastoral / elder leadership today. It is just way to easy for a board / elders / parachurch boards / denominational committees to process things this way. And it doesn’t just happen in the “big” places where there is more power. Any “power” anywhere corrupts.
“It just seems here to be too much like the good ole boys club and if you stay in line with our parameters and “respect” our wisdom, then all is well. But if you don’t, then you are a threat,”
yes – a literal threat.
a threat to power and money / money and power.
in the last 30 years or so, somehow, somewhere, a new industry has emerged called “church leadership” which has at its core “job creation”, job security, perks, and the numbers game (nickels and noses).
it’s all proffered as ‘biblical’. but it was all decided around conference tables to generate revenue streams, including how to pass it off as ‘biblical’. (how many ‘church leadership’ consultants, books, media companies, seminars, conferences proliferate in the billion-dollar industry of big churches?)
now even the most sincere pastors have been conned by these industry standards on so-called “church leadership”. There is simply no room for disagreement – since power and money are at the core of church leadership, the stakes are too high.
power and money must be protected at *all* costs. in the end, all is sacrificed on that altar.
combine this with a concept of God and it takes on cultic proportions.
Ronald, you expressed yourself very well.
It feels like there is more to this story. As an objective listener, something feels very off about all this. I listen all the time and most of the time really appreciate the thorough reporting. My spidy senses are going off.
There is more. That’s why there’s a part two.
We need sight of the full motion presented by Janette. We also need to hear what she said in speaking to the motion.
The full motion is posted on this page, along with the comments both Janette and Steve made when presenting the motion.
Thanks JR. I had to download to get access. Even with the page open for a long period, not all of the documents were opening on the page.
Theres a reason Calvinists are so threatened by empathy. It has a way of making people reject double predestination no matter how many proof texts you throw at them. Empathy works against the wooden literalism that guides so much of the toxic doctrines being churned out by certain reformed institutions. Without empathy the bible becomes cold hard data and numbers by which we calculate the righteous conclusion to every question. If those answers create systems that chew people up and spits them out, well at least we can stand before Jesus knowing we were true to scripture.
Problem is, Jesus seemed to indicate the doctrinaires would be in for a big surprise on judgement day. Seems theres some parables that suggest empathy over doctrine. Good Samaritan. Rich man and Lazarus. Picking corn or healing on the sabbath etc. Jesus tossed doctrines and definitions aside when they stood in the way of feeling and healing for the hurting. Turns out love is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets..who knew?
I’ve watched the video with Doug Wilson and Joe Rigney. I would listen to how they qualify their terms and how the use it. Sympathy vs empathy. They use it in a context of definite struggle that a person has with another. I see how their vernacular grabs some emotionally.
The use of empathy is not in regards to loss of life, major tragedy, someone who was slapped with a hardship out of their control such as an auto or health crises. Empathy is needed!
Yet with regards to a charge against an elder, allegations, family conflict, interpersonal communication problems and helping people resolve conflict. The way they define and defend sympathy vs empathy is apropos. Perhaps Biblical.
Or, how about this:
Doug Wilson portrays empathy as a sin because lack of empathy is one of the most recognizable traits in narcissistic pastors.
I question their definition contrasting sympathy vs. empathy. Honestly, it does not surprise me that these men are Calvinists-they are not known for their empathy! Is either of them a linguist or etymologist? When you are dissecting empathy like they did it sounds off-kilter and stunted. Now, people do use emotional manipulation in relationships and it is easier to appeal to emotion rather than careful reasoning. That is why film is so powerful, by using the image as a way of persuasion.
According to Columbia International University Professors Steve Johnson and Seth Scott, the distinction Wilson and Rigney make is neither biblical nor supported by scientific understanding of how the brain works. I encourage you to listen to their critique. https://julieroys.com/columbia-professors-confront-empathy-sin/
Thank you Julie,
I will look at this critique you mentioned.
Simply put, I think the elder board is afraid to scrutinize the legacy they have received. They are supposed to be a beacon of ‘high’ biblical authority, unstained and uncompromising.
Such a legacy could never result in authoritarianism. Admitting otherwise would be faith-shaking for some, whereas it should rightly be seen as an opportunity to repent of idolizing their ideology.
Believing Romans 9:14-22 does not exclude empathy. Nor does practicing empathy nullify Romans 9:14-22. The mature believer (Hebrews 5:14) embraces both.
I would like to hear the second podcast. I have concerns with the situation. A clarifying question Janette Takata and her comments about being liberal. Is this political or theological liberal leanings? It would bring context to the concerns from Andy Naselli. It would seem the comment on the liberal leaning is theological. Which would make sense why Andy Naselli thought to resign. It was a Biblical and Theological premise for his statement and not a political one.
Here is the Facebook post to which Naselli is referring: https://www.facebook.com/JanetteTakata/posts/10117383709718310
As you’ll see, Janette is confronting evangelical support for Trump following the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
It sounded to me as though the Takatas and those around them were filled with fear of their pastors and elders and of the God for whom the leaders claimed to speak.
Bethlehem’s defended seminary professor and church elder Andy Naselli really knows the fault lines and the majorities in the Bethlehem Church. With the assist of an equally unloving church member, Mr. Naselli confidently revealed much with his calculated highlighting of Janette Takala’s Democrat voting in 2020 as evidenced in her Facebook site. It was a quick way to dispose of whatever good standing she might have had in influencing others with her meeting motions – and by association those of her husband as well. It was shorthand for letting the loyals know – that Janette Takala is not one of us. She votes Democrat, and does not belong in a Republican church.
It would save everybody a lot of trouble, if the Bethlehem elders would just tell prospective members that voting Republican is part of being in good standing for members. That is an ugly Christian proposition, but it would provide the church a quicker path to political purity.
Mark, with respect. JT’s facebook post (the one I’ve seen) consists in much more that a statement of voting Democrat. Rather it is a full-frontal assault on the intertwining of (Evangelical?) Christianity and Trumpist Republicalism. The polarisation here attaches to faith, theology, Church, politics and societal-citizenship. For the USA, the polarisation here has to do with an existential binary; where there is relatively little evidence of willingness or capability to close up a divide. If it was legitimate for JT to fly the ideological flag of one side to the divide; then it is equally legitimate for those on its other side to fly their flag. As things stand, in the ideological joust between AN and JT; that’s as far as we have got; the flags have been waved on both sides.
If Janette’s motion at the Jan. 31 meeting had been political, then I would agree that Andy’s decision to discuss her Facebook post and voting record was legitimate. But Janette’s proposal was not political; it was simply a motion asking the church to separate its views from those condemning empathy expressed by soon-to-be BCS President Joe Rigney and BCS Professor and BBC Elder Andy Naselli. Janette’s political views are not germane to her motion. And bringing them up at a BCS staff meeting where Janette is not present as a way of discrediting her motion seems underhanded and unfair to me.
Well, at least we have an idea of what Jason Meyer meant when he said the church “wind blows more in the direction of neo-fundamentalism.”
Disclaimer. My own views appear similar to those of JT. My sense of the tide of history chimes with what JR appears to be pressing for. In my own person empathy is the central idea and the central practice. I find the idea that someone claiming to have been sexually offended against is lying, to be offensive in the initial response, and problematic if involved in initial investigation; albeit it may have to be considered in subsequent investigation.
However what DW and JR had to say (regards empathy), was coherent, did offer a valid faith, and may be Biblically consistent. It certainly is thought-provoking.
It is right that others are concerned first and foremost with the situation of women and other groupings considered mistreated across collective understanding and practices. It is right that activism regards this, press its concerns and aspirations with the strongest and loudest voice possible. The micro-dynamics of such injustices cause pain and suffering to many each and every day; the time for correction is now.
However, if this necessary action involves too crudely defeating other voices, and by way of oversimplifying the positions and thinking of those not yet supporting that action, then something good may involve something far from good.
Bottom line. If you believe in empathy. Can you empathise with DW and JR. Can you set aside what secures you, and see and understand what secures them. Can you contemplate an outcome which does not involve the ideational/faith gunning down of your nominal (Calvanist ??) opponent.
Listening to this podcast makes me so glad I left BBC a few years ago. The church then, and more so now it sounds, is lead by a bunch of self-righteous drama queens. Some of the players have changed over the years, but they’ve always had the knack to make a situation worse going back to the pipe organ debacle of 1994.
In the Evangelical-Industrial-Complex most churches behave as corporate entities. Also most board members or elders are typically part of corporate management or run their own business.
So what happened to the Takata’s is pretty standard fare in most churches. People who dare question leadership… are easily dispatched.
I am always amused where a pastor may have long series on grace, mercy, loving your neighbor, and then in the dealings of the church people have their head handed to them and then people wonder how that happened…..
It is all so Machiavellian…..
Gordon Jansma and Julie Roys, is the discrepancy between a pastor’s earnest sermons and his actions a predictable result of our fallen human nature? Or is it worthy of further exploration in an article?.
the discrepancy comes down a combination of self-entitlement and lack of self-awareness. and a habit of redefining words and concepts to fit a theology that suits one’s own convenience and self-interest.
blaming fallen human nature keeps christians in a state of arrested development and at the personal responsibility level of a 12-year-old.
exploration in a potential article would simply come down to “what is it about christian culture that panders to self-entitlement and not having to take responsibility for one’s own actions?”
At the beginning of your podcast you use the name John Piper, why?? Using the Ex Pastors name ?? Because that way you will get more people to hear your podcast???
I mentioned his name because he’s relevant to the story. Not only does Piper remain the chancellor at Bethlehem College and Seminary, which plays a role in what happened to the Takatas, but Piper also built the culture of the church and school. Also, most all the elders at Bethlehem right now served for years/decades under Piper. To not acknowledge this would be missing an important detail.
“If I were in an ARC church right now…I would have trouble feeling like I’m partnering with something unholy”. Your words are shocking! I have been part of a consecrated church for 17 years. We see lives changed weekly by the power of the blood of Jesus. Our cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and surrounding suburbs are being impacted by the love and generosity of God’s people. It’s an honor to serve with humility and kindness alongside our Pastors. We are growing in Truth, we are growing in the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, we are growing in love for all people. We are not perfect, By faith God is leading and guiding and transforming us into His Bride. We are an ARC church.
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