Okay, church checkers. It’s time I published something in response to Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church down in Mesa, Arizona. I’ve been struggling to decide whether to put this response in writing, in a recording, or both, and I’ve finally settled on both, so let’s get this party started, shall we?
Context is Key!... and Concerning
We’ll start with context because the context of this situation is very important for people to know. A few weeks ago, one of our dear friends and brothers in Christ, Michael Lake, requested that I check Apologia Church in Mesa, Arizona. He’s been searching for some Ex-Mormon Christian support for a while, and one of his friends recommended Apologia Church to him since they have a popular Mormon ministry.
Michael Lake is a true blue church checker, folks. He’s volunteered with us in the past and continues to be a great blessing to CMC, but the important fact to note here is that a friend was recommending Apologia Church to him, and he was doing his own personal research on them before a church check for them was even a consideration for me. Mike was investigating on his own behalf for his own spiritual interests, and once he found some information that was concerning to him, he contacted me.
By the way, Mike has given me permission to use his name and share the details of his request of Apologia Church to Check My Church.
The Red Flag Rears its Ugly Head
When Mike contacted me, he explained how he was looking into Apologia Church for their Mormon ministry, but that he’d found some articles on them that raised a red flag, and that’s when he officially asked Check My Church to write a report on them.
The articles and video he’d found are below:
My reaction? ...
If true, these accusations would lead anyone to conclude that Apologia Church is spiritually abusive to its members. Not only is it dishonest and insidious (and possibly illegal) to record someone without their knowledge or consent, but it betrays the trust that church members put in their church leadership. They confide in and reveal private information to their pastors. This kind of behavior clearly violates that trust and should be confronted, at the very least.
Arriving at the Truth
At this point, I had to find out if these accusations were true. If not, several people are lying and slandering Apologia Church for some reason, but if they are true, a lot of our brothers and sisters in Christ could experience abuse at the hands of this church’s leadership, even as I type these words.
If true, as a member of Apologia Church, you can’t trust your own pastors to honestly and respectfully shepherd you as a child of God. You don’t know if your conversations with leadership about your marital problems, your struggles with addiction, or your disagreements with fellow church members are being recorded, and then saved, lying in wait to be used against you later on for whatever purpose Apologia Church or Jeff Durbin deem necessary.
I could not in good conscience share this information with others without first determining that such heartbreaking and devastating abuse can be verified with proof. And unfortunately, it didn’t take long to find it.
In an Apologia Studios episode entitled Special: Responding to False Witness, Jeff Durbin admits to recording a phone call from Tim Hurd without his knowledge or consent, recording Hurd confessing his sins against Durbin and Apologia church. Jeff Durbin also admits to being the one who anonymously posted the recorded discussion on YouTube, rather than putting it out under his own name or ministry’s name.
We also see in this video, and others posted by Tim Hurd, that James White admits to hearing the phone call recording. The nature in which White divulges this knowledge is very off-putting to me, but listen to the episode for yourself and discern what he meant when White directs a third party to tell Tim Hurd via Facebook Messenger, “I heard the phone call, Tim.”
Jeff Durbin excuses all of this behavior by saying the recording acts as a “witness” to the discussions he has with people, almost as if it attests to good leadership and pastoral care, rather than what I see it as: abuse, dishonesty, and ultimately, entrapment. He also excuses it by saying Hurd has been abusing him and his ministry for years, as if that justifies (even if true) vengeance and vindictive retaliation.
Hearing the admission of this behavior from Durbin’s own mouth is proof that it’s happened at least one time, and as referenced in the article
Michael Lake found (above), there are several others who claim they have been secretly recorded as well. While the writers and reporters at Pulpit & Pen have attempted to contact Jeff Durbin for a one-on-one interview regarding these matters, he has declined to engage with them.
The Usual, Then Something Highly Unusual
So, after learning all of this, I put together my church check template and got to work. I did what I always do. I put an email together and sent it off to Apologia Church with my usual list of questions for the church. After several days and no response (usual), I tracked down another email address for Jeff Durbin and sent him an email. I thought maybe he wasn’t responding because my questions were too many and time-consuming, so I narrowed them down to the most important and difficult to find questions about membership and financial transparency.
Another 5 days passed, and still no response from either Apologia Church or Jeff Durbin. So I sent a follow-up email on the 21st to the church’s contact email. I will sometimes do this as a last-ditch effort to get the church to respond and let them know if they don’t, I’m forced to find the answers myself and if they do, it reflects more positively because it shows church transparency.
But this time, I mentioned I wanted to give Apologia and Durbin an opportunity to respond to the information I’d found at Pulpit & Pen. If they don’t engage with me, I’m forced to investigate matters for myself (as I’m usually forced to do), and what I’d found was pretty concerning. I didn’t want to publish anything without letting them know about it first.
This heads up, I believe, is what prompted Luke Pierson, one of the elders at Apologia church, to interrupt Jeff Durbin’s busy schedule. I think they’d already decided on the 11th that they would not answer my questions, but once I brought up the accusations against them (on the 21st) and mentioned that I’d found some controversial things about them, they perceived that as a threat.
Their response to the so-called “threat” raises another red flag for me. Keep in mind that they ignored me for 12 days, and probably would have continued to ignore me had I not mentioned what I’d found about them on P&P. And If the accusations are really false, this was their opportunity to clear it up. This was their time. Whether they like what I’m doing or agree with me in any category of the faith at all, I was asking questions about real accusations that have been lodged against Apologia Church and Jeff Durbin, and the best way to put lies to rest is to refute them.
But that’s not what happened. After 12 days of silence, once I mentioned the P&P news and Tim Hurd’s warnings to Apologia Church members, I was answered within 24 hours. The very next day, on the 22nd, Jeff Durbin finally responded to me. His response was both jarring and confusing.
Enter Stage Left: Smokescreens, Distractions, & Deflections Galore!
As you can see, rather than answering any of my questions, Jeff ignored them and leveled his own accusations against me personally, and against our brother in Christ, Shawn McCraney of CAMPUS Church in Murray, Utah.
There is a group of very loud legalists in the local church community with a strong distaste for pastor Shawn McCraney and his ultra-libertarian Christian views, and his unorthodox positions on things like eschatology and the Trinity. Jeff Durbin is one of these people, and personally, I think he saw my affiliation with McCraney as a way out.
He called me a cult member, and McCraney, a “known cult leader.” These claims actually made me laugh out loud. Anyone that knows anything about CAMPUS Church or Shawn McCraney knows that there is no danger of cult-like practices or treatment with them. For Pete’s sake, Shawn practically begs people not to believe him and do their own research every Sunday! Does that sound like a cult to you?
But don’t get distracted, church checkers. You can check out CAMPUS and McCraney yourself.
Use your own skills of discernment and investigation to determine whether this claim holds any water (or even thick, grainy sludge).
The point is, he avoided answering any questions by dismissing Check My Church as a watchdog group. Since he believes I’m a cult follower, what credibility do I have as an investigator? If his claims were true, I would understand his doubts. Unfortunately for him, it’s fairly easy to refute those claims, and beyond that, it was now becoming clear to me that not only was he avoiding my questions, but he was also attempting to deflect, distract, and smoke-screen their existence entirely.
I immediately responded to Jeff’s email with answers to all of his statements, doing my best to both assuage any genuine concerns he might have and his false claims about McCraney and by extension about myself. To this response, I am currently being ignored, but that’s not even the end of it, folks. The smoke screening, deflecting, and distracting only gets worse.
The Slander Escalates
Even though I responded to Durbin’s accusations promptly and in a manner that I think was very reasonable (see my response below), he ignored me and has continued to ignore me from the time I sent this last email.
Additionally, he and his cohorts (Luke and Joy of Apologia Church) hopped on their podcast, Apologia Studios, and aired an entire hour-long episode about how Shawn McCraney is a “cult leader,” “an apostate,” a “charlatan” (*gasp*, Jeff, that kind of accusation can get you sued), and a “very dangerous man” (yeah, that can get you sued too).
They also brought up my emails and Check My Church, calling me “lost” and “a member of a non-Christian cult”. I mean...I sent them my statement of faith. Read it for yourselves and tell me if forgetting to include final judgment makes me “lost” or part of a cult.
Jeff and Apologia Church didn’t think it was important that I or Shawn be aware of this public smearing. They published the episode on YouTube behind our backs, without contacting either of us to let us know they would talk about us or trying to hash out our differences one-on-one before going online and slandering us to thousands of people. You know, that whole Matthew 18 thing? Yeah, apparently that doesn’t apply here, because in the chaos and panic of being asked uncomfortable questions, godly behavior goes out the window…?
Anyway, I only saw the video because it was a recommendation on my YouTube homepage, being that I’d recently watched some James White and Apologia Studios videos in my research. After watching the video, I jumped in the comments and asked why Jeff was ignoring my emails, to which whoever operates the Apologia Studios YouTube Channel (probably Jeff) tried to accuse me of lying, but you can see the email interactions for yourselves, church checkers.
Jeff responded to me a grand total of one time and has continued to ignore me since my last email to him on the night of March 22nd. If he isn’t ignoring me, I challenge Apologia or Jeff to come up with anything showing that he’s responded to ANYTHING besides that one email. And they won’t, because they can’t unless they fabricate a fraudulent one.
I was caught up in the exchange on Apologia’s video comments for a while. Just read it for yourselves, church checkers, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
In Conclusion: Observe, & Discern
After all the chaos and bickering and accusations, Shawn McCraney put out a response to Jeff Durbin’s claims on Heart of the Matter this week. I am responding to him here (and I responded in my last email to him), but I’m also going to sit down with Shawn McCraney next month for a multi-part interview to ask him questions about his doctrinal views, his faith in Christ, and to discern for myself whether CAMPUS Church or McCraney himself lines up with any definition of “cult” that I can find.
Jeff Durbin, Jason Wallace, and anyone else claiming these things about Shawn McCraney has yet to provide any truthful or accurate information showing that Shawn McCraney is in fact a cult leader. They base their empty assertions on twisted half-truths and slanderous lies. I’m going to go on the record and ask McCraney as many probing and challenging questions as I can to determine once and for all what he believes, what he teaches, how he runs his ministry, and whether he is in fact a cult leader.
While Shawn and I welcome Jeff to engage with us and speak with us on any of these issues (and have multiple times in the past now), he continues to ignore us. He is still ignoring me, while dishonestly accusing me of lying about that fact. He slanders his brother and sister in Christ and refuses to engage with us or reason with us in any capacity.
And last but not least, he still has answered none of our questions, church checkers. While he has suggested on his podcast episode that he has no problem answering them and gives the impression that he did, he did not.
You know what our questions are, folks. You see them in every church check that we publish. Are these questions that deserve answers? Ask yourselves if my personal affiliations or doctrinal views are even relevant when asking questions like these. Do the members of Apologia Church have a right to know the answers to our questions? Are my doctrinal views even a part of our church checks? Do I insert my opinions into the church checks at all? Do you have a right to know this information when searching for a church yourself? Is Apologia Church obligated to be transparent with the information we provide to the Church by asking these questions?
If Jeff Durbin doesn’t want to engage with me because he thinks I’m a “cult member,” then will he answer these questions if they come from his own congregation? Will he answer them if they come from you? Or will he give you a theological exam and dismiss you entirely if you don’t pass his test? He has continued to refuse engagement with Pulpit & Pen and calls their articles “lies” but doesn’t provide any evidence or explanation for why we should believe him in that claim.
I challenge any member of Apologia Church to ask these questions of their church’s leadership, or at the very least, ask themselves if they can ask these questions safely. Would they be punished for asking these questions, or for reading published works by Check My Church? Put under church discipline? Recorded without their knowledge or consent?
This refusal to engage with us, the unstable reaction to our questioning in general, and the high probability that no one at Apologia Church will be able to ask these questions (and share the answers with anyone outside the church) are all just a big, fat, waving red flag, you guys.
And it’s just another reason why you need to check your church, my friends.