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Red Flag Report: CoastLife Church in Venice, Florida

In this Red Flag Report, we will cover the many red flags of spiritual abuse, exploitation, coercive control, and other harmful, cult-like behaviors and practices at CoastLife Church in Venice, Florida. If you haven’t already, please read the Check for this church as well.

1. Affiliation with ARC & Kevin Gerald of Champions Centre

The first red flag worth noting for CoastLife church is their affiliation with Kevin Gerald and ARC. ARC (Association of Relational Churches) has a reputation for supporting pastors caught up in sexual scandals, abusive behavior, and other misconduct. We’ve covered the problems with ARC and their mishandling of pastor misconduct multiple times. For a recent example, read this post on former ARC pastor Micahn Carter, who continues to be allowed to teach in ARC churches nationwide despite allegations of rape by a woman he pastored at Together Church in Yakima, Washington.

For more information on ARC and the many reasons we consider them to be a red flag, check out these other sources:

As far as Kevin Gerald goes, he is a church planter for ARC and the lead pastor of Champions Centre in Yakima, Washington with multiple other locations in the state. Kevin Gerald took ownership and the senior pastor position at Together Church, which was absorbed into Champions Centre after Micahn Carter resigned. Kevin Gerald is also on the Board that determines Steven Furtick's salary.

While CoastLife no longer appears on the ARC Church Map on their website, I called ARC and asked them if CoastLife Church is still an ARC Church. They confirmed they are still an ARC Church Partner, but the woman I spoke to was unsure of why they weren’t showing up on their map. She speculated it might be for financial reasons, but couldn’t confirm either way.

We have documentation from former members of the church which include notes from ARC courses and training that CoastLife Church members and leaders attend, such as the Freedom group. There’s also public documentation that mentions Kevin Gerald in a meeting with CoastLife Church’s Board of Directors. You can read it for yourself in the last few pages of the church Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation, linked below.

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2. Financial Exploitation, Tithing/Compelled Giving, & No Transparency

Another red flag at CoastLife Church, and the most obvious one, is regarding finances. Financially exploitative behaviors and teachings, a lack of financial transparency, and false teachings of tithing and compelled giving to the congregation are all included in this red flag.

Financial Exploitation, Tithing, & Compelled Giving

CoastLife Church pressures, compels, and even mandates financial giving frequently and in multiple ways. They compel and pressure giving through sermons, through their membership agreement and courses, through their building fund initiatives, social media posts, and other fundraising events and activities all throughout the year.

This focus on money not only shows the church’s service to money and their abuse of Scripture in order to achieve that service, but it also displays red flags of financial exploitation. The church appears to use its position as a spiritual authority to get more money in the name of Jesus, making no exceptions, not even for the very poor.

CoastLife Church frequently teaches on money both in sermon series that last for multiple weeks at a time and standalone sermons. One particular sermon I recently listened to was called The Genius of Generosity, which was part of their Summer Reading List sermon series. It was taught by Dana Stoddard, who sits on the church’s Board of Directors.

Chip Ingram wrote the Genius of Generosity, and I wonder if the church got paid to advertise the books they’re recommending to their congregation. It would certainly be another red flag of financial exploitation and money serving. But since we don’t know the answer to this, let’s get to the sermon, or what I’d much rather like to call a book promotion.

In this book promo speech, Dana Stoddard makes several false claims about the Bible’s teachings on money using Chip Ingram’s book.

“...It’s okay to talk about money in the church. In fact, money is throughout the Bible, which means that God wants to have a conversation about it, and so we’re going to honor His Word, and we’re going to actually talk about it…”

This is a variation of the common lie being propagated in local Christian churches that Jesus loved to talk about money, or that money was His favorite topic of teaching/discussion. Not only is this untrue because Jesus’ favorite topics were obviously things like salvation, the Kingdom of Heaven, faith, love, Hell, and the coming destruction, but it’s also a lie because it is a manipulation of the facts about the Bible for dishonest gain. Money is used and mentioned frequently throughout the Bible and sometimes used in Jesus’ parables as well. This doesn’t make it the actual focus of the message itself.

For example, in Matthew 13:44, Jesus uses treasure hidden in a field as an analogy for the Kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of heaven isn’t literally treasure hidden in a field which a man finds and then sells all he has to buy the land so he can have it. By Ms. Stoddard’s standard, this parable of Jesus is about treasure because that’s the literal word used in the message, but it’s obviously about the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Matthew 13:33, just a few verses prior, Jesus uses leaven in bread, instead of treasure, to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. Once again, Jesus is making an analogy. And once again, if we’re to interpret this according to CoastLife Church’s understanding of Jesus’ teachings, we ought to believe Jesus’ message here is about bread, but it’s not. It’s about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Whenever money actually seems to be the focus of Jesus’ teaching, it’s usually because He’s rebuking the Pharisees and those who exploit God’s people for dishonest financial gain. I believe He would rebuke CoastLife Church for being dishonest about God’s teachings on money in this sermon, and in the many other ways they are financially exploitative.

Dana Stoddard speaks on generosity under the presupposition that when we speak of generosity, we’re only talking about money. She talks about how she lies to Girl Scouts at the grocery store when she’s too broke to buy cookies because she doesn’t want them to know she’s broke. This precedes her following statement:

“...But when you’re broke the last thing you’re thinking about is giving what little you have away. You’re thinking about other things, like how am I going to pay my bills, how am I going to buy food? I mean generosity is not for me. That’s for people with money…”

Actually, under the Mosaic Law, the poor didn’t pay the tithe, because they literally couldn’t afford the strict requirements established by God for the tithe. In fact, rather than being required to tithe, part of the tithe was used to support the poor and the needy. In the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke on helping the poor and the needy, not the wealthy and greedy. Yet CoastLife seems to want us to believe that it is they, a mega-church with millions of dollars in property, that the poor should support, and not the other way around. (Deut. 14:28-29; read this article on tithing, too)

Jesus didn’t tithe, nor did His parents because they were poor carpenters. They didn’t have the means to tithe, and when the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began exploiting the poor,