Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays


City Bible Church, Where All Are (not really) Welcome

posted by Amanda P. Westmont

By Amanda P. Westmont

Walking through the front doors of City Bible Church is much like wading through the crowd into a rock concert. You can practically see the energy sparking in the air like a hormone meringue pie whipped from virility, youth and Axe Deodorant spray. The fact that the band keeps the base thrumming in anticipation doesn’t hurt at all.

Smells like Teen Spirit

After stopping to gawk at the stage, we found a pew toward the front and I wished I’d remembered the earplugs, which I recommend you bring if you plan to catch a service at City Bible Church. Along with a barf bag, a flask filled with Pepto-Bismol and a lighter, so you can raise a flame to Jesus during the drum solo.

I had to laugh when the band started in on the song “The Stand,” and I realized I knew all the words without looking at the big screen monitors behind the stage, of which I should note there were not one, not two, but SIX. Rock ‘n roll time for Jesus went on for about fifteen minutes before the band hit its peak and ended the set with their Jesusgasm faces.

Then Pastor Marc Estes took to the stage in his plaid shirt and jeans and led the troops in their first prayer.

I had every reason to like this guy. I mean, even I thought my predilection for cute, clean-cut, middle-aged bald men with goatees knew no bounds. But when he asked me to agree with his prayer by giving it “one big shout!” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, especially when he followed that sentiment with a “happiest place on earth” cliche about his church being even better than Disneyland.

Then the lights dimmed and it was time for the video announcements! City Bible Church pretty much has its own TV channel, which you can see for yourself right here.

Each commercial was slicker and shinier than the last, like ads for VW hybrids or fancy newfangled feminine hygiene products with wings. But I couldn’t help but do the math in my head. My guess is that five minute video cost them a good ten grand to produce. I mean, these were commercials that had been test marketed. Then came the brochures,which were distributed to dozens of new visitors like Joel and me, along with shrink-wrapped introductory DVDs, logo-printed ballpoint pens and coupons for free drinks from their in-church Cafe. I’m no Catholic, but sitting there holding ten bucks worth of schwag overwhelmed me with guilt.

What a waste! All those dead trees could have fed a family of six for at least a day, if not a week. Each one of those stupid big screen TV’s was a year’s worth of groceries or enough to clothe and house a homeless veteran for a year. I kept waiting for the explanation. Where was all this money coming from? And more importantly, where was it going?

Unfortunately, I got the message loud and clear when the white popcorn buckets went around the pews for offerings.

“God promises that He will supply ALL your needs!”

“Blessed are those who give back!”

“I activate my faith by giving!”

“Let’s pray for prosperity!”

They collected the buckets and the sermon began, live-broadcasted from Vancouver to all four church campuses via satellite at who-knows-what cost. Pastor Frank Damazio’s lecture turned out to be about RELATIONSHIPS.

“Say relationships!” Pastor Frank preached as if he was teaching a foreign language. And who better to school me on relationships than a man who fully admits to being in a sexless marriage! I was all ears!

Apparently Relationships That Believe the Scriptures Rule are based on the inerrancy of the Bible. The Bible is the authoritative word of God and if that means you smack your wife for disrespecting you, the Bible TOTALLY has your back. This relationship thing is also based on the sufficiency doctrine, which says you have to look to the Bible in EVERY area of your life. Apparently this two thousand-year-old tome has every. single. answer, which only had me wondering what the Bible might say about the ethics of taking iPhone photos of Slug Bugs while driving just so I can get more points when Joel isn’t in the car with me. (We play slug bug for sexual favors!) What would the Bible say about my blog trolls? I’m guessing they should probably just “eat it [as] barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.” Eze 4:12.

But here’s where it got sketchy for me. Pastor Frank started hitting the big issues, BAM BAM, BEND OVER MA’AM – abortion, gay marriage, premarital sex, living in sin. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the pew getting scary text messages from a friend of mine. A friend who was raised at City Bible Church. A friend who was both literally and figuratively raped by a member of this church. When I first met her about four years ago, she told me how she had to get HIV tests just to be sure her molester hadn’t passed the virus to her before dying of AIDS himself. Because in spite of all that Christian homosexual reprogramming he’d received at City Bible Church, he was still having unprotected sex with men outside of his marriage.

Oh? Did I mention that? City Bible Church thinks, and I’m directly quoting from our interview with Pastor Marc Estes here, “God’s plan can’t be for you to be gay. That’s a false premise.” But I digress… This is about my friend and how when she went to the church leadership and told her story, they accused her of making it up in therapy. No one helped her and when she finally left the church and disappeared (after spending years working her way into leadership with CBC), no one bothered to check up on her or to see if she was okay.

This church hurt someone I love. They did exactly the opposite of WJWD. They shut not only their doors, but their hearts to someone desperately in need of help*.

So when Pastor Frank Damazio said, “even if you put a gun to my head, I could never marry two women,” I felt sick.

“People say I’m narrow-minded,” he went on, laughing. He held up his Bible and turned it sideways, adding, “Yeah. THIS narrow.”

I have never gotten up and walked out of a sermon before, but sitting there, holding that $5 brochure in one hand and my friend’s heartfelt text messages in the other, I wanted to leave. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to SCREAM.

But I stayed, because I also wanted to give this church every possible opportunity to redeem itself.

I’m sure you can already tell how that turned out…

Pastor Frank went on to list everything that is wrong with modern dating.

Which cracked me up for two reasons:

1) “Worldly” dating after my divorce was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. It hurt no one, taught me more about myself than I’ve ever learned and after six months of “recreationally” “playing the field” for the “temporary enjoyment” of “sexual sins,” I was more than happy to turn my heart over to a certain bespectacled bald man. Something I never would have been ready for if I hadn’t played that particular field.
2) Just that morning, before church, I’d received a Facebook message asking me if I could “confirm my relationship status” with Joel Gunz. He’d asked me to go steady! (I clicked confirm, which is pretty much the only “I do” he’ll ever get out of me.)

Of course, it doesn’t matter how happy I am to be living in sin with Joel, because he doesn’t meet all eight of the magic criteria this church deems important in a mate.

According to City Bible Church, we are doubly doomed because the only litmus test for a healthy relationship is your commitment to God and the Bible. I’m sorry, but I call BS. The real litmus test for a healthy relationship is your commitment to YOUR PARTNER, not God. Joel and I might occasionally be down for a threesome, but it will never involve The Father, The Son or The Holy Ghost. Christians everywhere will argue with this, but I think our relationship is actually DEEPER because we leave God out of it. The way we treat each other isn’t based on a set of rules or obligations. There is nothing more INTENTIONAL than loving your partner simply because you want to. I get to wake up every day and choose Joel. Trust me when I say: it isn’t a decision I take lightly.

After fifty minutes of listening to how horrible and terrible and doomed to burn in the fiery pits of hell we were for all our “sexual sins**”, the telecast ended and Marc Estes took the stage again for the closing message. We had introduced ourselves to him before the service, which included our usual “so where do you guys live?” banter about how even though he hasn’t spent a night there in months, Joel will always answer “North Portland” because he doesn’t want to admit to living in Camas. Pastor Marc must have been listening carefully because he closed the service by looking me straight in the eyes (note to self: ditch the neon hair if you want to blend in better!) and saying,

“If you’ve already made mistakes, we want you to know you are welcome here. We want you to understand the big heart we have for you. Let us help you become all you can become!”

I tried not to blush at the compliment from such a cute bald guy.

Throughout the service, I’d kept my ears perked for something – ANYTHING – that would redeem this church. Maybe prayers for the sick, a call for volunteers to help feed the poor or serve the needy, a mention of even ONE THING this church does to help the less fortunate.

Yet there wasn’t a single word, not even a syllable, about how the money they collected would be used.

So after the lobby cookies (not made by volunteers, but purchased at Costco for $12 a tray) and free coffee ran out, we tracked the good pastor down for a little Q&A session. Marc Estes tried to convince us that this was “a Church for all people. Come as you are!” but he was just giving us lip service. After some probing, we learned they would never let us become members until we got married. Gee, what a shock.

My big question of the day still lingered, so I finally nutted up and blurted it out,

“What do you do with all the money?”

Marc laughed, sat back in his chair, patted his chest and informed me that church members (a club from which we had just specifically been excluded) were welcome to look at their audited books any time they wanted, but that they “give away over $1.5 million dollars a year.”

That sounds great, “But how much do you collect?” I asked.

“About four million in tithes.”

Hmmmm. Four million. In TITHES. Which means at the very least, it costs the church $2.5 million dollars just to keep their doors open. I’m already not a big fan of that ratio, but I think he was painting an overly optimistic picture. Because there is a difference between “tithes” and donations. If you look at the donation card (or at the online giving form), there are actually several ways to donate to City Bible Church that are not classified as tithes. Marc Estes claimed they take in $4 million in TITHES, but how much are they taking in for things like Missions, Scholarships, Acts 2 Offerings and the Faith Harvest? My guess is that number will match up pretty closely to the $1.5 million dollars City Bible claims to give away every year.

So what are they actually doing with the four million? Any current church members who’ve had a look at the books care to enlighten me? Or is the openness of their bookkeeping an urban legend?

Marc went on to explain the charity work the church does. I know he was trying hard to scramble, but nearly every example he cited involved some method of growing the church.

“We send buses to low-income apartment complexes and bring under-served youths back to our services.”
“We reach out to untouched ethnic communities and bring them here for services in their native languages.”
“Every Tuesday night we serve dinner to 250-300 drug addicts. Here.”

That’s not giving, that’s MARKETING.

He also mentioned they give away over 100,000 pounds of food every year. “More than the Oregon Food Bank!” Except that the Oregon Food Bank moved 72-MILLION pounds of food last year. And let’s be honest, 100,000 pounds of food costs, what, $50 grand? For a church that takes in millions, that’s not just pathetic, it’s criminal.

Of course, I’ll eat my shirt if I’m wrong and it turns out City Bible Church has strong, audited financial statements to refute these accusations. In fact, if they’re willing to share them, I’ll happily post them here on beliefnet.com for all the world to see.

I knew I wasn’t going to get a straight answer about their finances, so we let Marc continue to rant at length about creationism, his belief in a young earth, fundamentalism and how all science really does is prove the Bible unequivocally. But we got the gist of it. This is a church that wants two things:

1) Your money (for who knows what)
2) Your obedience (to a very strict set of rules and regulations they spend most of their sermons discussing)

In the meantime, Oregon is in the middle of perhaps its worst financial downturn ever. Unemployment is in double digits and record numbers of poor are visiting food banks. And what does City Bible Church want to talk about? Gay marriage and premarital sex. They want you to pray for the growth of their new Pearl District campus and the easy sale of their 217 property. If you’re like my friend and you go to them for help, you might just get turned away or ignored.

I think Kathy Escobar, one of the pastors at The Refuge, a beatnik Bridge-like church in Denver, Colorado, summed it up perfectly for me in her recent blog post about how “the world is crying out for hope while we’re talking about theology:”

“while we spend countless hours on the ins and outs of homosexuality possibly being a sin and women not being able to lead and who’s in and who’s out related to heaven and hell, the world is crying out for hope.  people are dying–literally and figuratively–and we are spending millions of dollars & hours & blog posts & sermons and all kinds of other things that focus on “correct theology.”

why do we spend so much time talking about theology instead of actively being the hands, feet, heart, and eyes of Jesus?”

I dunno, but City Bible Church left me with more questions than answers.

*Lest you worry about the fate of my dear friend, while she still struggles every day with her faith and her history, she is easily one of the strongest, most fierce women I know. Because no one in the church ever advocated for her, she learned how to advocate for herself and has since become a voice for victims of rape and sexual assault. She’s also the one who turned me on to The Bridge, a church she claims, “Literally saved my life. I would be dead without them.”

**Luckily for Joel and I, it’s not pre-marital sex if you never get married.



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Joe Surstonio

posted December 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm


I noticed that the City Business Church Blog is down or blank. Do you know anyone well enough within that blog to help figure out what is going on there? Sorry, thought you might have more insight based on your possible connections.



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Melissia

posted September 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm


My husband went to City christian School. While he was there he went to the principle/ head football coach and told them of how his father was molesting him, HE WAS IGNORED! Where is JESUS in that??? I had thought about putting my daughter in CC until my husband revealed this to me and now after reading this article I will never put my daughter in cc or ever go to that church. Thank you for answered prayer I had been seeking the Lord about this school and church and THANK YOU JESUS FOR ANSWERING ME!!:) You are awesome JESUS!!!! In my option Jesus wants real people yes we are to live his word and his word is to convict us when we are doing wrong, however it has to be done in God’s timing not mans!!! This is to my husband I LOVE YOU AND I AM SORRY NO ONE LISTEN TO YOU!!!!



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Fran

posted September 8, 2011 at 7:56 pm


So you guys could get together with some former CBCers (attended church, school, etc.). They write a blog about CBC called City Business Church. http://www.citybusinesschurch.org/blog/
These guys are the children of friends of ours.



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Jim

posted September 1, 2011 at 2:12 am


Hey did you know something you all think church is bad and you had bad experiences well the reason is you did not have God in your life you refused to let him in istead you just pretended to know him because you were forced to go. That is how I felt 2 years ago but then I let God into my life and now my life is better than ever. And I’ve heard pastor Frank preach and guess what he could show you more prof that christianity is true than any one else can about other religions.



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MJB

posted July 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm


interesting blog. As a “believer” in “the Way”, the first thought that comes to mind is that it is really easy to confuse the message with the messengers. In churches, synagogues, temples, etc., most people attending go to practice the particular beliefs of this or that religion. in a Christian church the message is mostly to people who have found the message of scripture to be transforming to their lives, or something that rings true in their heart. im thinking if i could go to every Christian church on the planet i’d probably find something or someone or some practice i didnt like, and people behaving hipocritically. if i could attend the worship places of all other religions im thinking the results would be the same. The church is made up of people. we people pass the message on, though not perfectly. we do fail. we do succeed. i think mature believers welcome scrutiny though it carry a sting. analyzing and judging the people that carry the message can be beneficial, but it seems that maybe looking in to and analyzing and judging the message may be more beneficial to more people. these things are a matter of the heart. my heart is burdened for your friend who was abused. i have a similar experience at another place. This helped me see how it not the people that my faith is in. i also hurt for any hurt at CBC. i see this church, as a whole, one that would want all hurt here to come and be reconciled. to let us hear and see our wrongs and be willing to ask for forgivneness. (At least of the people that i know here.) the financial part of it-an area where it is so important for accountability. appreciate your viewpoint. wherever you decide to go or not to go, to do or not to do, I’ll be praying for your heart to know the fullness of God’s lavish, unsurpassable love.



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Kim

posted July 8, 2011 at 8:32 pm


I belong to an organization that is fairly new but has no love for the type of people that attend City Church and churches like City Church and consider them evil and dangerous and they need to be kept a close eye on. I personally would like to go further then that but I don’t relish the idea of going to prison.



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wondering aloud

posted July 1, 2011 at 10:54 am


could i just second that….?

this blog is great…..what wouldn’t i give for you guys to give straight talking about our church….alas, the pond is in the way

keep writing
(please)



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A.H.

posted June 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm


This post was my favorite thus far. My major requires me to take counseling classes, and one of the best things my teacher said is that “if you can’t talk to your peers about what you are doing in your practice, you might be bordering on unethical ground”. I like that idea. Full disclosure. I can see why it makes people feel uncomfortable, because if you are in the practice of not evaluating yourself, or your life path, it is discomforting to see anyone else to it. Amanda, what you are doing is honest, and there is nothing more frightening, or threatening (to some people) than the truth.



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Louie

posted June 24, 2011 at 9:51 am


Ya know I’m a Portland Native who now lives in Dallas, Texas where I have been introduced to these “Mega Churches.” Something not normal in Portland. Sounds like City Bible Church serves a God (Pastor) based on abundance of material status. “He with the most toys wins.” Faith by abundance, so sad. I serve a God who is faithful in tough places. See I am one of those homosexuals who has advanced HIV, or AIDS, with cancer and Hep C. All my enemies celebrated my demise and thought I was down for the count, the doctors had given up on me. I serve a God who reached down and snatched me up out of that sickness. Great is thy faithfulness. Until you have been in a tough place thinking you ain’t gonna make it, God stepped in and against all odds, I am here today. It’s not about pomp and flash and big screen TV’s and bands on stage. It’s believeing in a God who is faithful when I wasn’t faithful. He created us just the way we are, Gay, Straight, White, Black, Brown, Yellow. City Bible Church appears churchie on Sunday and Heathens on Monday. Psalms 73 comes to mind when I think of City Bible Church.



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Life Guy 101

posted June 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm


Wow! Someone who is finally speaking what I have thought and believed for years. As a former Pentecostal minister, I called my former presbyter (more high up church dude) who was always real and read him your column. We were both ROFLOL!!!!! And he’s almost 80! Keep up the great work! Your columns should be required reading for all seminaries! And by the way, if you really keep the spirit and mind of Jesus as the forfront of ministry, you end up getting fired…….a lot. Which is why I guess I am a former one. Most folks in leadership seem to want bigger, better, more. Me no grok…



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No Name J

posted June 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm


No way that slick video cost them a dime, in fact they made cash I’ll bet. Same with anything printed, i.e, the schwag you felt guilty about. NO, I’m far from condoning it, it’s pure waste and greed! Just saying, that with their MFI, and City Christian Publishing ( http://www.citychristianpublishing.com/ ), the college that’s not accredited, the K-12 school, and all the camps and what-not, it’s all “free”, because believe you me, if your not “connected” and giving back, you just ain’t a good ’nuff Christian to hang with Marc ‘n Walter, and THEIR subservient underlings. So without question, those things are not taking away from monies “acquired”. Well, COST of paper, but there’s no mark up, that’s for sure, and I’m sure they’ve got their accountants playing with numbers so it works out. Oh! Don’t forget the book pimping that everyone does, or the series on tapes/CD, so who knows what else I’m forgetting…

As for the 1.5 mill that you guess they bring in from “all the other stuff” that’s not tithe, I’ll bet you are millions off. Faith Harvest is a massive message Frank and the rest shove down upon you for months, to the point that it seems relentless. Just when the Faith Harvest “season” is over, ya turn the calendar page, and sure enough, it’s starting up again! I’d say he figures out how to make “giving” his message 2/3rds of the time.

Anyway, this was a great review, so was the one from your partner in crime. I actually hope that MILLIONS see it, and steer clear from City Bible Temple… errrr… Church. That was it’s old name. Yeah, Iv’e got history there. Posted in the other review… ruined marriage… only slightly bitter… yada yada….

Cheers!!!
-no name J



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aaron cook

posted June 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm


Hi Amanda, Hi Joel! I appreciate your courage and honesty in reporting your experiences and insights. I believe in (and try to follow) Jesus, and I… I don’t even know… want to apologize, I guess, for the sketchy stuff associated with so called christianity. Makes my stomach sick. I’m especially sorry to hear about your friend’s experience–though I’m happy to hear that she seems to be doing well. I don’t really have much to say, and no easy answer or defense. Just wanted to, as a believer, connect with you and say that I hear you.
Take care,
aaron



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kathyescobar

posted June 14, 2011 at 10:02 am


yikes! as i read it, i kept thinking about how it feels like some sort of weird dark comedy and sort of laugh. then i remember, it’s real. and not very funny at all. thanks for your wit & passion & heart. i hope sometime you can come down and play with us in denver. peace, kathy



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jestrfyl

posted June 14, 2011 at 7:28 am


Amanda wrote, “This is part of the Bible I really don’t grok yet.”

I serve a church thousands of mies away, but i would sure love to have you drop by sometime. Anyone who reads Heinlein and uses the word “grok” would be on the same wavelength. I often have the whole “grok” concept n mind as I plan for Bible study and sermons. I am always working to help folks get the punchlines in scripture and in their lives.

And I agree, church should be messy – a challenge in a congregation like ours, but I am working on it.

Way to go Amanda and Joel!



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Lindsey

posted June 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm


“My guess is that five minute video cost them a good ten grand to produce”.

Nope, because 9 out of the 10 people both in the videos and working on those videos are doing it for free. Ya know, to serve the church. They even have an internship (or did, not sure if it’s still active), where young people can pay the church about $3000 to volunteer for 9 months…AT THE CHURCH. The equipment was probably donated though I guess with $4+ million they can afford to buy pretty nice AV crap.

I’m actually kind of in shock that Marc was willing to give you any kind of figures. I had no idea that CBC was bringing in that kind of cash.



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Laura

posted June 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm


Amanda, You hit the ball out of the park, hit the bullseye, you nailed it. Your intuition is amazing. Visiting one time you picked up the heart of the problem. Bravo, great job. Also, your a damn good writer!



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DeTox Church Group

posted June 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm


So, where IS Joel’s review? No pressure, just asking since you both usually blog on where you’ve been. I hope the CBC experience didn’t slime him into silence. Seriously. These kinds of places can make you sick if you’ve grown up in similar religious environments. It can also be like revisiting an old drug house where, even if you despise the poison, it whispers your name. There are certain highs we had to say goodbye too in leaving our cults. If there isn’t going to be a review then we understand. Just let us know so (1)we can quell the anticipation and (2)we can send up a flare for the ‘spell’ to lift.



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NancyK

posted June 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm


To Janet who probably won’t even come back and see this:

I’m sure Amanda is capable of answering your questions for herself, but I just want to point out that she is an individual not an organization with tax exempt status. The problem with CBC raking in the dough on Sundays and not reaching out enough to the poor has everything to do with the fact that they are a 501 3 C non profit organization. Intelligent people who want to know have a right to ask where the money is going.



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Raisehell

posted June 12, 2011 at 8:13 pm


Thank you, Amanda, for your kind comment.

Janet, you are absolutely right. I am an imperfect, an extremely imperfect, example of exemplifying what Jesus would do. I fail miserably every second. As a matter of fact, all of us do. It’s a part of living in this fallen world.

My comment on Amanda’s other blog was not gossip. It was a true, first-hand account of my own experience of working with Dave and was in response to the comments that try to portray Dave as someone who he is not. From my experience, he was a mean, nasty person. I hope he finds the help he needs to change, for the sake of his children and his own well-being.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it sounds like you could really use some love in your life right now, Janet. I hope you find someone who can give you a hug and share the love of God with you. Hugs from across the miles.



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Jayjacque

posted June 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm


Here here Sharlee!

Gosh Janet, it’s just a blog and CBC is just a crappy church, sooooooo why not have a little fun with it?



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Sharlee

posted June 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm


Gosh Janet,

When doing a side-by-side comparison of your post with that of Raisehell’s, it is easy to see who communicates the hands and feet of Jesus more, in spite of what their name is.

Amanda makes no commitment to Christianity or its tenants, therefore, she cannot be held to anything other than the law of the land and her own personal moral code. Her code was offended at CBC and she chose to share about that, which according to the laws of the land, she has the right to do. Why suppress her freedom of speech. It is what gives you the freedom to say what you have to say.

I think it is funny how outraged some are by this post, which, I think causes the point to be missed. Amanda had a negative experience at CBC. Why not just apologize? It’s not like her article has not been validated and corroborated by the majority of the responders here. So, there must be something to what she is saying, don’t you think?



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Johnpaul

posted June 12, 2011 at 11:15 am


Before all you CBC readers get upset like Janet here please remember there are always 2 sides to the story. The comments Amanda makes and the way she views things could be completely off base once you here from the other side…

That’s why I’m waiting for Joel’s review to get the full picture!



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Ali

posted June 12, 2011 at 10:36 am


Oh, and btw, thanks for this review. We’d kind of like to find a church and we’ve been browsing the church websites and the google maps for one and this one’s come up a few times. We’ve put CBC off because churches that heavily emphasize the preaching pastor, have “satellite churches” (because that one pastor is so amazing that no one else could possible preach and/or start a new church plant), and have/go to a lot of “conferences” usually worry me. And now we know better. hahaha.



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Ali

posted June 12, 2011 at 10:27 am


So, just thought you might possibly enjoy Carlos Whittaker’s blog at http://www.ragamuffinsoul.com/

Los is a worship pastor turned sunday worship director turned worship music artist (with a label) and he spends a lot of time mulling over a lot of the things that you (and a lot of us) find so frustrating about church. Especially at the City Bible Churches and the Foursquares and the Imago Dei’s out there. He’s a Christian, but he has a great story and he really deals with a lot of serious questions about the way church is “done.” He once wrote that just because he had enough in his budget to land a jet on the stage as apart of a sermon/series, why should he? What was the point? Why spend the money there? What good did it really do anyone? Was anyone really that impressed with all that?

He actually used to work at a church that I went to in California, so I promise that he (and his family) are beyond cool and really, really honest.



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Jayjacque

posted June 12, 2011 at 2:37 am


Thank you Amanda. Great review/synopsis. You of course only scratched the surface of the ugliness. But for one visit very very perceptive. I can’t believe I actually believed their crap for 8 yrs. while going there. It’s like hypnosis or something.



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Janet

posted June 12, 2011 at 2:20 am


Oh and one more thing Amanda, since you’re so quick to criticize and say how little CBC is doing for the poor and downtrodden, I have to ask how much are you yourself doing for the poor and downtrodden? Do you financially give to others or charity? How much money do you donate to help the less fortunate? How much do you give to the food banks (or do you just go there to benefit from what others give?)? Are you willing to open your books to everyone and to prove how much you’re helping or donating? I highly doubt it! Yet, you are so quick to judge others and say someone else isn’t doing enough. I don’t care how much money CBC makes or takes in, I’d venture to guess they are giving 100% more than you! Apparently, though, it’s do what you say, not what you do?? Talk about crying BS!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 12, 2011 at 2:15 am


You’re right, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure Jesus knew evil when he saw it and wasn’t afraid to call it out.



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Janet

posted June 12, 2011 at 1:55 am


Amanda, I don’t understand how you can say that someone named “Raisehell” is the epitome of the perfect example of the “hands, feet and eyes of Jesus”. Jesus wouldn’t go on your other blog & Facebook and say nasty things and spread vicious gossip publicly about your ex-husband. That is not a person that “oozes kindness and acceptance of everyone”. That is actually the exact opposite of kindness and acceptance and a terrible example of WWJD. For you to state otherwise, just goes to show that you have no idea who Jesus is/was and what he would do.



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Jonny Valentine

posted June 12, 2011 at 1:52 am


Thank you for calling it out, Amanda. I grew up baptist and, have attended many churches in life (even CBC) and the one conclusion I have reached is this… America doesn’t know what being church means.

The church in the Bible was purely based off of Jesus greatest commandment, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then couples it with “And love your neighbor as yourself.” These two were placed together because we see that Yahweh/Jesus is a God of relationship far above any other social activities or religion we can conjure up. Shoot, that’s why Jesus says there is no harm in breaking Hebraic law if it is to perform a loving task (Matthew 12:12).

To suffice from going on a massive rant, let leave it at this. Thank you for being honest. As a believer and follower I believe that we need to hear what outsiders think and observe. Should we take it all and become a social club serving outsiders… probably not. But I can’t say there’s no room in the middle. Early Christians were highly concerned with their reputations as being “above reproach,” AKA: it’s clear what their motives are. The American church has no concept of this.

Simply put:
-I’m sorry we’re not more like Him (and we need to stop using that as an excuse).
-We are EXTREMELY irresponsible with our money (the church in Acts made sure that ALL shared their possessions and no one was in need).
-Keep on doing what you’re doing (it’s time for “Christians” to grow us and understand what we preach).

-j.v.

PS: have you read “Unchristian” yet (by Kinniman and Lions) it has quite a lot of good commentary on the varying perspectives of Christianity in the last 20 years.



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kapk

posted June 12, 2011 at 12:13 am


Wow, you are one disillusioned person. Really, you think a church does not have sinners? They are full of sinners and by God’s grace we are saved. Repent and turn from your wicked ways. Quit picking apart a church that has done more good than bad. If City Bible is not a good fit for you, then find another one. God is in many churches. Just find a church and find God before it is too late. God loves the sinner, but hates the sin, make no mistake about that!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 11:52 pm


I’ve said this to you privately, Raisehell, but I’ll say it again here: your family was always a beacon of WWJD. Your parents (and you and your siblings) just oozed kindness and acceptance to everyone. You walked the walk. You really were (and still are!) the hands and feet and eyes of Jesus.



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Raisehell

posted June 11, 2011 at 10:52 pm


Reading this post made me sad, too. I’ve never been to church in your area, but I am a Christian and grew up in a wonderful, Christian home. Our family made many a church leader and fellow believer uncomfortable with our unorthodox view of outreach. My parents always believed that we should be doing something to live out our faith and not just giving to a church so that the church could do the ministry. In that vain, our family became doers, taking in the unclean of society who suffered from mental and physical illnesses. We got turned away by several churches. It was hard, but it also bonded us together as a family. My dad always told us (and still tells us this to this day) that if we are living a life of comfort, then we aren’t living a life that answers the question of WWJD. Jesus wasn’t about amassing wealth. He wasn’t about a beautiful production without substance. He was about getting his hands and feet dirty, building relationships, establishing the trust, and working within the loving confines of that respect to educate. Unfortunately, it’s easier to give money than time for many of us and so we lapse back into our comfortable lives, feeling good that we wrote a check on Sunday morning, instead of taking time to follow up with that woman who is a bit mentally unstable, but who sure could use a loving hug and word of encouragement.

We all have skeletons. Some of us are better at hiding them, even in church. I sometimes sit in church and look around, wondering what skeleton is hiding in the closet of the “perfects”. To the public, they have a perfect family, perfect kids, perfect income, perfect house, perfect car…they are the envy of everyone and everyone always compliments them on their perfection. But, we all know they have skeletons lurking there. They’re good about not letting it hang out. Whether they put a name on it or not, it’s there. And, you know what, if they believe in Jesus, they’re going to heaven, just like me, even if my baggage is heavier and “worse” than theirs.

So, thank you for this project and the reminder that we are all fallen creatures. God loves each and every one of us, no matter the sins in our life. What a relief!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm


Oh we’d LOVE to take this gig on the road! We’re hoping to do just that and have some ideas for getting it funded, so we’ll keep you posted. It’s getting harder and harder for me to keep my “outsider” viewpoint (like knowing the lyrics!), but it’s all still pretty foreign to me.

Frank actually said that you should ask a potential mate about their credit card debt. If they have any, it’s a no go!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm


Thanks for your comment, Kim!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm


Melody,

I was very careful not to say a single disparaging word about the people who attend this church. All you’ll ever get here is MY reaction and a review of the leadership. If you’re up on stage, you’re open to criticism. Pastor Marc and Pastor Frank will just have to put on their big boy underpants when they read this.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm


Thanks, Patrick! I’m glad you’ve been able to heal and I hope my post helped, even if just a little.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:36 pm


Oh, JL. My heart goes out to you. I’m so glad you’re free and that there’s still love in your heart (and a place for you at the Bridge). I’m 98% sure you already know the friend I’ve referenced in this post, but if not, I’d be happy to put you two in touch. You’d be instant friends.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm


My intent is simply to show up, sit down and see what happens. And no one ever said this blog was objective!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm


Oh Sheryl,

He fully admitted that sex might SEEM important at the beginning of relationship, but that after 30 years, you forget you ever cared about it. He also said his wife would probably smack him for admitting it. It made me sad.

We’re planning to go with JenZug to Mars Hill in Seattle some time this summer. Really looking forward to it!



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:22 pm


Slander? I actually WELCOME them to refute any and everything I said about them. I will be more than happy to publish their response right here.

And Lisa, WOW. What a kind, gentle-hearted soul you are! Is that what you think of all poor and less fortunate people? Or is it just me?



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:19 pm


I am SO doing the Macarena with Joel after the kids fall asleep tonight.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:19 pm


Bad things like WHAT? Seriously. This is part of the Bible I really don’t grok yet.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm


One of the things I failed to mention and wish I had is that I have good friends who attend this church and love it. These are good people with good intentions. I only wish I could encourage them to at least give Theophilus a try (the swearing at The Bridge would put them off or I’d recommend that too). Not only because their money is wasted at CBC and would go SO MUCH further at a smaller church, but because a small church like that would benefit SO MUCH from having such good Christians in their ranks.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm


Did you check out my link to the refuge? One of their beliefs is that “church should be messy.” I couldn’t agree more.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted June 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm


Sheesh, man. EVERYONE wants to sue me for slander these days.



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Johnpaul

posted June 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm


He also mentioned they give away over 100,000 pounds of food every year. “More than the Oregon Food Bank!” Except that the Oregon Food Bank moved 72-MILLION pounds of food last year

The thing is that the Oregon Food Bank gave 71,900,001 pounds to Gays and Masturbators last year and so City Bible Church don’t count that in their numbers…thereby making them the largest food bank operators in Oregon (serving heterosexuals)…



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NancyK

posted June 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm


Doesn’t slander mean it has to be a false statement in order to be slanderous? Isn’t it just Lisa’s opinion that Amanda “has a sense of entitlement with money because she is the “poor and less fortunate now”. She doesn’t want to get a job where she has to work like everyone else to pay the bills, and wants people to give her money to sit on her butt by the pool and write her little blog posts a couple times a week” or could that be construed as slanderous?

Also, we should mention that City Bible Church is a 501 3 C organization and any American citizen can walk in and ask to see their financial records (that are supposed to be made public anyway). That makes it anybody’s business not just “the members and contributors of that church and God”. Besides, since when do the members and contributors have a say in where the money goes? Respect of authority means ask no questions in these types of churches. It’s the good Christian check-my-mind-at-the door attitude and let Pastor do my thinking for me so I won’t have to trouble myself version of submitting to the authoritarian rule.



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john

posted June 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm


an addtional comment. If you feel that you should get yourself together, fixed or perfected in order to attend a church, that church has missed the mark. A church should be a refuge and a hospital.



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Johnpaul

posted June 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm


Amazing insite Amanda. You accurately sum up City Bible Church after only 1 visit. Well done (maybe your trip to The Church of Alice rubbed off on you).

Sadly, City Bible Church will not hear any of this. In their minds there is no such thing as criticism…it’s all persecution.

I had hoped to laugh with you through your post but instead it just made me sad. CBC is such a waste of people’s time and money… all for building the temple of Frank.

Marc Estes once told me that he would take a bullet for Frank Damazio or City Bible Church…but he didn’t mention taking one for Jesus. I thought he might be confused as to who is God is.

And LISA, they tried going after me for slander for saying similar things and all it got them was an expensive bill from their lawyer…so don’t hold your breath.

That being said, it is important to note that its not ALL bad. There are plenty of good things and good people at City Bible Church. It’s just not typically found on stage or in the leadership.

Thanks again Amanda for your honest writings.



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john

posted June 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm


I used to attend City Bible or “BT”so I know a lot about it. There were some things out of balance when I was there for sure…ON the financial thing churches should keep it in balance. You could get the impressing that the author thinks churches should meet in tents and sit on buckets. It not wrong to have a nice builing, however it should definetly be kept in balance. I don’t have any idea what they spend on video productions but my current church has a fantastic video production department that operates on a absolute shoe string and duct tape budget. While BT is known for “bible thumping” bibical sexual morality should be taken seriously. Unrestrained sex drive usually leads to bad things.



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Pingback: City Business Church » Blog Archive » This is How You Takedown a Church

Justin Morton

posted June 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm


I remember years ago being in church listening to a sermon from Frank Damazio. He was speaking on sex and he mentioned that he doesn’t dance, because dancing mimics the same moves that people use when having sex. This was back in the 90’s when the Macarena was popular. And all I could think of the rest of the sermon was that Frank Damazio does the Macerena when having sex.

It explains a lot.

Anyway. Nice job, Amanda. The pastors at City Bible aren’t used to being challenged quite that forcefully. And uh, you certainly challenged them. So, nice job.



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Lisa

posted June 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm


The money subject is a particularly sore subject for Amanda because she has none and has a sense of entitlement with money because she is the “poor and less fortunate now”. She doesn’t want to get a job where she has to work like everyone else to pay the bills, and wants people to give her money to sit on her butt by the pool and write her little blog posts a couple times a week.

As a visitor to a church, it is absolutely NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS what that church does with its money. That is up to the members and contributors of that church and God and no one else. You are accusing them of being criminals and of fraudulently doctoring their books and misusing church funds. These are some pretty strong allegations to make after just visiting a place for a couple hours on a Sunday morning. Spreading lies that CBC is a bunch of criminals on Beliefnet is wrong. I hope CBC goes after you for slandering them in this fashion.



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Sheryl

posted June 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm


Caring for the physical needs of the poor is extremely important, AND so is theology because that’s how the needs of the spiritually poor are met. (Sounds like their theology is sorely lacking, but I can’t say without more info.)

Did he say he was in a sexless marriage? Also, are you planning to review any churches in the Seattle area? Just curious.



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DeTox Church Group

posted June 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm


To Melody: Don’t you dare? Shame on you? Wow Melody why the threatening tone? Wo, I thought we lived in America. Maybe you don’t. Anyway, anyone in America has the ‘right’ to attend any gathering they want with the intent to bash or not. You sound like some irate mom trying to threaten her kid not to do something, or something.

After reading many of the other reviews of the churches these guys have visited this year, I don’t see that they go in with the intent to bash (except maybe Joel old JW stomping ground – can’t blame him for that!). Maybe you haven’t read any of the other posts yet? They seem to be trying to keep an open mind. In some cases they’ve even said “I really wanted to like this church…” Even in this CBC post Amanda mentions: “Throughout the service, I’d kept my ears perked for something – ANYTHING – that would redeem this church. Maybe prayers for the sick, a call for volunteers to help feed the poor or serve the needy, a mention of even ONE THING this church does to help the less fortunate.”

Sorry, but these are public gatherings that can be attended by anyone who wills for whatever purpose. Sounds like you maybe reacting to the embarrassing situation this church, like many others, finds itself in – no longer a representation of the true cause of Christ.



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JL

posted June 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm


This post left me in tears. Like Joel who faced his abuse in the JW Church… this was my abuse.

I was not only a member of a church like this, I was on the church leadership, an old testament bible scholar, who would often teach. This was the kind of church that would condemn, and lead huge protests outside abortion clinics and sponsor defense for marriage rallies.

I was raped on vacation. Not the violent kind, but the “you are drunk and I am too horny to care that you don’t want this.” I flew home the next day pregnant. I chose to do the “right thing” and keep my child, and was promptly expelled from leadership, and made to feel quite unwelcome. Ignored even.

This left me so scared, alone and angry. I knew how much money they spent on “fighting” abortion alone. Not one dime went to helping, not even to one of theirs. They justified this by saying that they had no idea if it was truly against my will.

Like your friend, I had to find my own strength. I love my daughter, and am also a strong ally of Planned Parenthood. I am still somewhat spiritual, but outside of the Bridge can’t stomach “church.” I’m still fighting poverty as a single mom, but I’m a third through my master’s program.

If there is a God, the only thing I can *know* is that God is not like the one this church represents. That is not love.



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Patrick Curtain

posted June 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm


Amanda!

I’ve been waiting to read this. Went to school with Sharlee. Likewise brainwashed and horribly hurt. Took me a long time to heal from this. Thanks for taking the time.

Hope whatever made your week hard is better.

Blessings!
–p



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Melody

posted June 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm


I grew up in this church. It has been 12 years since I’ve attended, and in those years I have gone through numerous church experiences that were pretty darn aweful, all across the u.s. I’ve learned that its about our own hearts. Shame on you for going into a church with the intention of bashing it, because guess what, its everywhere! I may not agree with everything CBC does, but I do believe that they, just like so many other twisted American churches, do some good in their community. But honestly, don’t you dare think that you can judge anyone that goes or preaches there. Many of those people have been faithful and have gone there their whole lives. They are invested there, you are not. So until you get to know them and really jump in with both feet, don’t bash them. Please, I understand bitterness and hurt, its everywhere. It starts with you, and there’s not a church out there that is responsible for your personal walk with Christ.



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Kim

posted June 11, 2011 at 11:59 am


I grew up in this church and went to the schools…elementary all the way up through college. Talk about brainwashed, it took me YEARS to sort out all the crap!! Its a church that I know of so many people who were abused by the God/bible manipulating and thumping. They love the rich and despise the poor…and I don’t just mean those that have or don’t have money. Thank you for your opinion of the experience that you had. It couldn’t be more correct!



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DeTox Church Group

posted June 11, 2011 at 11:53 am


Love it Amanda! Thanks for taking time with this, especially when the week has been a hard one. Maybe you ran into some weird spiritual zone after stepping into the outer stratesphere of Christianity going to CBC last Sunday. (sorta kidding) Can’t wait to read Joel’s too!

I don’t live in Portland but I’ve been to CBC church for conferences and have bonded with some of the ex-CBCers over the years at their blog. CBC is the mother church to all the other MFI churches under its umbrella. MFI is like a denomination but they refuse to admit that’s what it is and say it’s a ministers fellowship only. Frank is now the head of MFI since the CBC church founder retired. CBC used to be called Bible Temple but changed their name when it started becoming hip to link yourself to the City.

Anyhoo, we had to endure Frank, his lists, and his lisp not to mention his shameless book promotions at least once a year. It’s not surprising that what stands out to you the most is the money issue. Way to go getting right to the heart of it when interviewing Mike Estes. (of COURSE it’s like Disneyland to him since the leaders especially the lead family have access to all the money – can you imagine what that wedding will look like?) I’m sure they have a full-time media ‘pastor’ which explains the slick vimeos – he probably has a handsome salary complete with staff with paychecks (prob 10 bucks an hour but it all adds up!) 6 VIDEO SCREENS – does that mean you have to see 6 Frankies and Mike Estes’s tell you the glories of God, I mean, of their disneyland church? – er, no that would be 7 since the real one is front and center. creepy.

Financially stable being on the 8 non-negotiable list – so do you do ask to see their tax record and bank statement? – can you imagine how the interview would go? Also, my guess “respect authority” means “never asks questions” of authority or how about “drinks kool-aid with no reservation”. sheesh.

While waiting for your review this week I’ve had a blast doing some catch up reading of your other reviews. I’ve both laughed and cried at your assessment of what churches look like to someone self-labeled as an ‘unbeliever’ walking in the first time. When I used to sit in my former church there were so many things that caused me to cringe – for some reason I was always seeing the service with the eyes of the newcomer – clinically insane could have been an apt description. So I’m not surprised you’ve found what seems like insanity at one church (you two had me laughing to tears with the Portland Pentecostals – my my, what a time warp!) and then what feels like home to you at a few others. It’s a relief to know you’ve come across a few authentic souls who seem to capture the essence of Jesus and his message. I haven’t read all the reviews, but did read The Bridge and Theophulis and thought how cool. I enjoyed reading about the Church of Alice too and seeing it from your perspective. I clicked over to Cherry’s site just for giggles and did giggle I have to say. Some of that woo woo reminds me of the prophetic intercessor types prevelant in the Charismatic Christian world. They must be looking for the same thing just going about it through different ‘channels’.

The church we went to is very much like CBC. Any chance of you and Joel taking this gig on the road? ;-)



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An Unscrupulous Man

posted June 11, 2011 at 10:25 am


Did Frank, whom you note is “in a sexless marriage”, happen to mention the sin of “masturbation” in his sermon on sexual sins?



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Jay

posted June 11, 2011 at 9:42 am


You’re right in your assessment…
They could care less about the world around them. Boil down all the glitter and frills and there are only 2 things important, yea mandatory to them: 1. your money and 2. your blind obedience.

They screw people out of their money and spend it only on what makes them look good, and then brag they’ve made God so happy. The real truth is: Hundredss if not thousands have been hurt more than helped by this church through the years.

If you believe the bible (which some of us still miraculously do after being abused with it for years at that place), in Matthew there’s a part that talks about “whatever you’ve done to the least of these you’ve done it unto me” (Jesus talking); Meaning that City Bible’s snobbing of the poor and downtrodden in society and instead heaping treasures on themselves through the years, they’ll one day have to answer for. I’d like to see on that day if it still looks like Disneyland for their leadership.



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Sharlee

posted June 11, 2011 at 1:53 am


I grew up in this church. In fact, my dad used to share an office with Frankie. Reading your review almost made me cry. I often think of my years in this church and hope that I am the only one that walked away broken and it breaks my heart when I read about others.

Thank you for your humor while dealing candidly with a church that has brought harm to hundreds of its members. At least that way, we can laugh through our tears.



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