Updated: Jun 28, 2019
I've been stonewalled in conversations with people many times in my life, and I've seen it happen between journalists and politicians. I'm sure you have too.
What is stonewalling?
Basically, it's a refusal to answer questions, cooperate, or communicate in an effort to avoid confrontation or open and honest discussion about something.
In politics, journalists will oftentimes ask politicians difficult questions, controversial questions, questions that make them feel uncomfortable.
In response to these kinds of questions, many times politicians will stonewall the journalist by changing the subject, deflecting, or evading the question with vague non-answers.
Politicians are in the business of looking good, acting perfectly, and appearing a certain way to the public. Why? Well to get votes of course! To appeal to the masses. To win that seat at the top. To get into that position of power and authority. To get the approval of the public, you have to appear a certain way, or you risk being unpopular, and unpopularity means losing.
Religious leaders aren't much different, depending on their ultimate aim. For many churches these days, the ultimate aim is to grow into a megachurch. I would even argue that some Christian churches and pastors sometimes operate under the same guise as politicians do, fighting to keep a certain image regardless of how dishonest and manipulative they must be in order to do that.
The more members a church has, the more money it makes. It's sad to say that this has become the true goal of many churches, but it's becoming more and more clear to me with each church that I check.
The Stonewalling Church
In response to my Questionnaire, which you can read for yourself in our Church Checking Criteria, most churches and their pastors that I've contacted so far have chosen to stonewall me.
By stonewall, I mean they have either downright ignored my questions entirely, sometimes initially answering my probe email until I ask my questions and then ignoring me, or they've answered my questions by using deflective, vague, and evasive language in an effort to avoid answering the questions honestly and openly.
It's an attempt to avoid revealing a certain appearance to the public. A way to hide the truth about their church, which they've worked so hard to build an image for, and here we are. Messing it up.
After being stonewalled several times now with no end to the wall of silence in sight, we decided it was time to make this problem known to people. To show churches that their stonewalling will not go unnoticed.
Enter stage left: The Wall.
Being ignored is frustrating. Being stonewalled is frustrating too. Not only that, it tells us a lot more about a church than they're hoping to reveal. They're hoping that by remaining silent and refusing to answer our questions, they save themselves the trouble of looking bad by answering them.
On the contrary, refusing to answer them makes them look suspicious and dishonest. If they haven't figured that out by now, they're going to. Once the Wall becomes a well known thing among churchgoers, and it will
The Wall is a list (shown above) that we will plaster on our Home Page to display which churches that we've checked have stonewalled us in one way or another. Whether it be by refusing to answer the questionnaire entirely, or giving us short, vague, or deflective answers, stonewalling is stonewalling, and it will be exposed for all churchgoers to see for themselves.
Not all churches and pastors have done this. Fortunately, I've actually had three or four churches actually answer all of the questions openly and honestly. It's a huge relief because I was beginning to worry about the state of Utah's Christian churches, but rest assured, there are definitely some very good churches, and honest pastors, to go to.
These pastors/churches have answered our Questionnaire so far, and passed it:
- Shawn McCraney with CAMPUS Church in Murray
- Lee Ponder with Christian Life Assembly of God
- Ryan Shaddix with Calvary Chapel Sevier Valley
- Steve Pierson with Redemption Hill
- Associate Pastor Jesse Smout with Living Faith Discipleship Community (Their Check is in the works)
On the other hand, most churches, their staff, and their pastors, have stonewalled us.
Real Life Ministries refused to answer the Questionnaire entirely, saying " ...we feel this list of questions wouldn't fully reveal enough about Real Life Ministries and our answers wouldn't completely capture all God is doing through the relationships in our church body..."
One Place Church wouldn't even acknowledge the questions, ignoring everything I asked them entirely with a scripted response that actually made me feel like I was talking to a stone wall.
K2 responded to my probe email, but once I sent them the actual questions, I couldn't get anyone, including the lead pastor Dave Nelson, to answer me.
The Rock Church ignored me entirely. They ignored my emails and my Facebook Messages.
Gospel Grace did the same thing K2 did: respond initially, but as soon as those questions got seen, bam. Stone wall.
Pastor Rick Henderson with SMCC in Draper actually did respond to the questionnaire. Initially, I felt he'd answered many of the questions fairly, while others were given very vague and political answers, but then as soon as he realized I am an attendee of CAMPUS Church in Murray, our discussion quickly unraveled.
Initially, pastor Chad Johnson with Fellowship Bible Church told us he would answer our questions once he returned from a mission trip to Peru on March 5th, so we did the Website Review and watched the Online Sermon, checking everything we could and taking them at their word. Since the sermon was an excellent and Biblical verse by verse study through the Bible that preached the Gospel, we gave them our recommendation, assuming that the questions would indeed be answered upon his return. Sadly, that did not happen. When we tried to contact pastor Chad after March 5th to follow up, then again a few days later...and yet again today, we were finally given an answer. We've taken down our Check for Fellowship Bible Church entirely and added them to our list of Stonewalling Churches.
Adventure Church delayed their response to our email and Facebook inquiries for weeks until finally we sent them one last email letting them know we would have to write their review under the impression that they refuse to answer our questions. We finally got a response from pastor Jodi, but our questions still have yet to be answered. Read our full FB Messenger conversation on the Adventure Church Check here.
Bible Baptist Church in Salt Lake City initially answered our inquiry, but just like so many others, as soon as those questions were sent over, it's been nothing but a stone wall.
The Mission Church, where Aaron Shafovaloff is an elder and associate pastor, responded to our inquiry with a staunch refusal to even recognize me as a Christian because I attend CAMPUS Church, where pastor Shawn McCraney questions the Trinity doctrine. Also, both of my email addresses have been blocked by The Mission Church so that I can't email head pastor Ritch, but Joe has since emailed him, and still awaits a response. Here was our discussion on Facebook Messenger:
Midvalley Bible Church tried the same stonewalling technique that a few others have: delaying until it could no longer be delayed, and then deflecting with a "let's talk about this first" approach. Here is the email discussion I had with pastor Doug Hornok before it ended in an inevitable refusal to answer the questions.
Pastor Doug: Thanks for your email and interest in our church. I will be glad to answer your questions, but have my children in town for a few days and will need to do it later.
Also, could you please let me know where it is you blog. I would like to see an example of your work before proceeding. All of your questions are valid, but require a lot of time - ie. #11.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Sarah: Thanks for your quick reply. I totally understand making your family a priority. Please take your time with the questions. My blog is called Check My Church. Here is a link to the blog. Our most recent review was for Redemption Hill Church in Saratoga Springs: https://www.checkmychurch.org/cmc-blog. I understand that my questions can be time consuming. I typically wait a few days before I make a follow up email to give people enough time before responding, so I will just check in with you again on Monday. Would that be okay with you.
Sarah again, 5 days following: Hi Again Pastor Doug, Have you had a chance to look at my questions yet? Just following up to see where we're at on them.
Doug: My family leaves town tomorrow - after some of the best skiing we've had in years. I'm swamped for the balance of the week, but will address this next week. I did check out your blog and would love to talk with you by phone. I'm not as big a fan of email as some and always enjoy personal interaction. Would love to have you visit our church - I think that would be a great way to get a feel for the fellowship of believers at MBC.
Sarah: Next week will be great. We can talk by phone, but that is difficult for me as I have two little boys who need a lot of attention during the day. We can still do that if you would like, but we may get interrupted a lot. I'm open to any means of discussion, but I would also like to get the answers to the questionnaire in written form since the reviews are written. It would be hard to reproduce your answers based on a phone conversation. I don't want to misquote you. Once my family and I are living in Utah, we will definitely come by for a visit! We are currently living in Idaho and trying to move down there, but it may take us a few months. Pray for a speedy move for us if you would!
6 days later, Sarah again: Hi Pastor Doug, Have you had a chance to get to my questions yet this week? Just checking in to see if you had any questions or concerns regarding the questionnaire.
Doug: I mentioned I would like to talk to you by phone. What is your phone #.
Sarah: Yes, but I would also like to get your answers in written form if possible. In fact it would be best if you send me your answers before we speak on the phone. Since it's your answers to these questions that I use for the review itself, getting them over the phone would prove to be difficult to reproduce without misquoting you, and I definitely don't want to do that. I'd be glad to talk on the phone, but like I said before, I have two small and very loud boys that will make that difficult as well. So written form is best if that's okay with you.
Doug: I have a funeral on Friday - but will try and get to these after I hear from you. I have read your blog and find some of your writings concerning. I've been a pastor for 40 years and know the challenge of being misunderstood and misrepresented. As such, I would like an assurance from you that before you publish your evaluation of our church that I would be given the chance to review it to make sure you are representing us correctly and accurately.
Sarah: The last thing I want to do is misrepresent anyone. I'm just trying to get the facts and the truth and to present what I find to my readers. At the same time, I do have opinions and observations that I give in reaction to the facts and information that I find, but I'm always open to being corrected if I'm ever mistaken. Check My Church is a very new operation and as we learn and grow, we adjust and change the way we do things, but our aim is to tell the truth in love, and to stay true to the Gospel of Christ. So while I have no problem speaking with you on the phone in general, I must insist on your answers in written form beforehand. I could not possibly conduct a phone interview with the distraction of my children, and I need the information I use in the final review to be accurate and verifiable. I also have no problem sending you the final review before it is published to make sure everything is accurate and truthful. Please let me know what you think. Thank you.
After a week and no response, Sarah again: Are you going to be sending me your written answers to my questions this week?
Doug: Just read a review of one of the churches you evaluated and after further reflection, I think we will pass on answering your questions. I had asked you if you would allow me to speak to you directly before I answered the questions and you declined.
Sarah: Why do you insist on speaking on the phone before you answer the questions? Is that important? And Doug, I declined the phone conversation before written answers for a few very specific reasons:
1. In my experience when a pastor insists on a discussion before they'll answer the questions, it means they're avoiding answering the questions. It's a delaying and/or stonewalling technique.
2. In my experience after having these kinds of discussions beforehand, it almost always results in not getting any answers because the pastor's goal is to discount or dismiss the questions, not answer them.
3. With this knowledge in mind, talking on the phone would leave me with no information that I can use for my review of your church. I cannot quote a phone conversation with no verifiable proof to back it up. That would be hearsay, and as I've already said, I don't want to misquote you and misrepresent you or your church. That is why written answers are best, and necessary.
So, I think you are being manipulative by insisting on a phone conversation in order to avoid answering the questions. If I'm wrong, please tell me.
You can see everything we're about and what we're doing on the site, so a phone conversation is unnecessary and will do nothing but give me content I can't use. I think you know that. I did agree to one though, after you answer the questions. If you can't agree to that, it only further confirms my suspicions that you are just avoiding answering the questions.
Lastly, please note that refusing to answer the questions will not stop us from writing a review of your church. The lack of transparency in your answers here will just reflect poorly on the final rating. I hope that you will reconsider. Our goal is simply to provide churchgoers with as much information that we can on every church, to expose churches that push legalism and/or materialism, and to support/encourage churches that teach the Word, preach the Gospel, and glorify God alone. Thank you for your time.
Discovery Christian Community, like so many others before them, initially answered our FB Messages. As soon as our questions were sent, however, we were basically told that our questions would not be answered. At least not in writing. That's what I got from this (emphasis mine):
"Hi Sarah, Thank you for contacting us. You’re very welcome to come to Discovery! We’d be happy to meet you in person and talk with you about the concerns you have with the modern church. We have concerns too, but prefer to talk about these in person rather than written correspondence. Btw we are very open with our church about our finances, posting them publicly in our building. We’re not hiding anything, but seek to do our best to follow God according to biblical truth regardless of how popular it is. I too have experienced a lot of frustration with contemporary American evangelical Christianity, but I think my greatest positive contribution is to try to be an example of the change we want to see, though we are sinners saved by grace. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus loves His church, we are His bride for whom He died, so I should love the church too, despite its failures and shortcomings (that includes me. I pray the Lord guide you in your quest for truth. John"
Perhaps once we are in a position to meet in person, we will get our answers. Until then, this appears to be just another stonewalling technique.
Tooele Springs Calvary Chapel was actually recommended to us by a fellow Calvary Chapel attendee, but when I tried to ask pastor Chris the questions, his response was blunt and severe. We had something of a discussion:
Chris: Hi Sarah, you are more than welcome call me anytime i have you my personal cell. I am however not interested in filling out your questionnaire. Write what you will about us. I love you and care for you as Jesus calls me to do, so i would like to caution you about this road your headed down. By nature what your doing has great potential to cause division among the body of Christ, and the Bible says God hates those who sow seeds of discord. More notably Jesus was asked if we should remove the tares from the wheat in Matthew 13:24-30. Jesus said no don’t do that because you will also uproot the wheat. What you are trying to do is remove the tares but what’s going to happen is you are going to uproot wheat in the process, and Jesus said don’t do that. Not sure how God can bless us when we’re trying to do exactly what He told us not to do. I love you in Jesus name and encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus and not the waves. Opposition is always going to be there but not to worry it won’t hurt us. Jesus said i will build my church and the gates of Hell will NOT prevail against it. So if God is in it nothing you write can thwart that, and if He is not you don’t have to worry because it will come to nothing. Please read Acts 5:33-39 with emphasis on vrs. 39 The Lord Bless You
Sarah: Hi Chris, I’ve had the pleasure of checking the Calvary Chapel in SLC as well as Sevier Valley, and I was actually hoping, based on the high recommendation from another Calvary Chapel attendee, that I could write some very positive things about your church. Regardless of what you may believe about what I’m doing, I’m not sowing discord. I’m looking for good churches to encourage Christians to attend, and churches that teach false ideologies such as legalism and materialism to discourage Christians from attending. I’ve received a lot of positive emails from Christians who have either left the LDS Church or have just moved to Utah from another state and are looking for a good Christian church that hasn’t fallen prey to these ideologies, because it has been a big problem these days. They have used our work to find a church that not only lines up with their own personal preferences in a church, but also avoids the issues we see so often in the modern day Christian church. I have no intentions or hopes of causing division within the Body. I believe that by pointing out the problems that plague the Body and exposing the ideas and philosophies that are hurting it, I am actually building it up and protecting it from ideas and intentions that seek to destroy it. If we’re reading the Bible in context, it is very easy to show why doing this is not only necessary, but also very loving and good. Matthew 7:15, 1 John 4:1, 2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Timothy 4:3, Romans 16:17, Matthew 10:16, 2 Peter 2:1, Matthew 24, Colossians 2:8, Ephesians 4:14, and so many more passages tell us that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing that want to deceive us and hurt the Body. We’re supposed to be innocent as doves, but cunning as serpents, not falling prey to these wolves and avoiding them as best we can. What I’m doing by Checking Churches, will hopefully aid individual Christians in accomplishing this for themselves, and for the Body as a whole. Additionally, Jesus spoke very forcefully to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. If we are to be like Jesus, should we not pay close attention to who He criticized, why, how, and then do the same? The gates of Hell shall not prevail against God’s church in the end, but I think you’re taking Acts out of context when you say we should do nothing about wolves that infiltrate and attempt destroy the Body from within. It’s our job as His to prevent that from happening. That’s all I’m trying to do. If God is in it, I don’t want to thwart it, if He’s not, I’m doing the work that I believe God has called me to do. Are you not doing the same thing by shepherding His flock? I’m sure if false teachings and doctrines somehow began spreading within your congregation, you would be quick to snuff them out. It’s part of your responsibility, and any Christian’s that wishes to protect the flock. Of course, you don’t have to answer my questions, but part of the reason I ask them is to show churchgoers which churches are transparent and open with us, and which are not. Refusing to answer the questionnaire shows a lack of transparency, so I hope you’ll reconsider. Just to be clear, however, are you saying you will answer the questions on the phone but not in written form, or are you refusing to answer the questions outright?
Chris: What i am saying simply is i couldn’t disagree more with your premise, and i don’t want to be any part of it over the phone or in writing! How can you say your not causing division with in the body? Read your website it’s full if divisions! You quote Jesus and the fact that the Local church Pastor is called to guard sheep from wolves, but then do something totally different. You threaten the churches that refuse with bad press. What your attempting to do is identify tares With IN and it’s a losing concept according to Jesus! Your not identifying those outside the body and identifying them as wolves, your going after the local church, and if the local church does things differently than you suppose is the right or only way to function then you slam them. Jesus was talking to those outside of the body. Calvary Chapel is well known and people can find out whatever they want about us! You like Ryan but not Terry, they are both Calvary Chapel it makes no sense.
Take it or leave it but once again in love i caution you against this road your headed down, in my opinion it is so unbiblical and not the way God wants Christians to treat other Christians. So please write whatever you wish about Tooele Springs Calvary Chapel. People are smart enough to see through what you write. Here write this. We planted 6 years ago and have baptized 150 people who received Jesus in their lives for the first time. I have taught 23 books in the NT on Sunday mornings since we started every chapter and every verse of all 23 books. 4 to go and I’ll start over. All of which is available online to the public, we live our lives out in the open and very transparent, anyone who want to see that can!...
Sarah: Okay, well the only divisions I am making (and trying to make) are between the truth and lies. Between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and another gospel, or no gospel at all. Between the Word of God and the words of men. Those divisions are certainly made, and should be. All Christians should discern those divisions within their own lives and recognize them in their church. Some churches preach legalism, and whether they want to hear it or not, that’s not the Gospel. Some churches preach materialism, and whether they want people to know about it or not, that’s not the Gospel either. I’m sure that many churches and people will not like the truth being pointed out, but we absolutely must tell the truth. Christians should know the truth about the churches that claim to preach the truth, but refuse to answer simple questions about themselves. They should know the truth about churches that preach tithing and then refuse to be financially transparent. They should know the truth about anything and everything to do with the local church. The church is called to serve God and serve the Body. If it’s not doing that, it needs to be held accountable. I’m attempting to identify false teachers and warn the Body away from them. It’s what Jesus did, and it’s what the Bible says we should do. You can take one passage from the Bible out of context to support your position on virtually anything. Take the Bible as a whole and it’s clear that we shouldn’t be sitting quietly while deceivers and liars attempt to control the Body and make dishonest gain.
Churches that refuse to answer questions are not being transparent, and should be held accountable for that. If my position is wrong, I welcome challenges and questioning just as we should expect churches to. It’s not my personal preferences that I’m pushing here. I’m using the Bible as a base and as the criteria. If you honestly can say that I’m wrong to expect churches to worship God alone, teach the Word instead of the words of men, and preach the Gospel instead of legalism or any “other gospel,” then we have bigger problems than my premise being misguided. The fact of the matter is that the Bible speaks of those outside and inside the Body. False ideologies and teachings can come from anywhere, and we should stop them wherever they may be. Right now, they are within the Body. We should get them out, shouldn’t we? Don’t we want the truth to be known and the lies to be exposed?
I gave Calvary Chapel Sevier Valley a positive review because pastor Ryan responded openly, answered our questions without stonewalling us, and was completely transparent in every respect. Additionally, I couldn’t find a lick of legalism anywhere in my evaluation. With Calvary Chapel SLC, Terry initially wouldn’t answer my questions at all until just a few days ago. I like Terry as a person. I think he’s a great pastor and he teaches the Word, but my negative notes have everything to do with how the church is run on the inside. They are both Calvary Chapel, but they do things very differently from each other in a lot of ways. I’m not perfect of course, and I run the risk of doing this unlovingly. That is a real fear of mine and I pray constantly to avoid it, but I’m sure I will make mistakes along the way, just as all Christians do when trying to do anything worth doing, but it is worth doing. The truth matters, and if we love each other, we should tell each other the truth. I am not treating anyone unfairly, or at least I try very hard not to. I grew up in Christianity and I’m doing this purely out of love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. They are being lied to and trapped in the false teachings of legalism and materialism instead of freed through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not doing anything about it would be a real sin, and would bear false witness against a lot of people. I simply couldn’t do that in good conscience. I will not write anything about your church that isn’t true, and I don’t want to. If you’re suggesting that’s what I do, I’d love for you to point out where I’ve done that so I can fix it.
That’s why I ask the questions, to find out the truth about what you teach and preach as a church. I will definitely include everything you’ve said here though, as I’m sure there will be people who agree with you who will appreciate your words. And then there will be others who don’t, and will appreciate knowing this when looking for a church to fit their own opinions on these things.
Thank you for your time anyway, and God Bless...
Calvary City on a Hill in Provo, pastored by Rudy Rodriguez, has used more than one excuse to avoid answering our questions. First it was because we're part of Shawn McCraney's ministry. Then it was because he was dealing with several family deaths. And of course, he's a pastor, so he's too busy to answer my questions anyway. Perhaps eventually the time will be found to address our questions. Until then, I have to add them to the Wall.
CenterPoint in Orem stonewalled us on the basis of a Bible verse taken out of context and misapplied to what we're doing in order to dismiss our entire project. Here is the email interaction between myself and pastor Scott McKinney:
CrossPoint Church stonewalled us similarly to the way others have by completely ignoring us from the get-go. Fortunately, however, this time we had a friend who knew the pastor personally, so he tried to reach out to pastor Logan Wolf. The response was disappointing.
Calvary Chapel Midway started out acting as though they were actually going to answer the Questionnaire, but in the end, the result was the same as all the others.
Last but not least, we initially had Calvary Chapel SLC on the Wall months ago when our questions to pastor Terry Long were ignored. A few months went by when he finally got around to answering us, so we took them down from the Wall, but it was too soon. Even though Terry responded to the questions, he didn't actually answer several of them very clearly, and when we tried to contact him again to get clarification, we received the reaction below. As a result, they're back up on the Wall. The last response from me had to be sent to Terry's personal FB Page, as I was blocked from messaging him on the Calvary Chapel page before I could reply to his last statement. And it was ignored.
Check back to this post regularly to see any updates or changes on the Wall in the future, or just look at the Home Page and you'll see the Wall right there.