How Could This Happen in the PCA? (Part 2):
These Men Don't Understand the Ten Commandments!
by David Eyre
As we drove the 40-mile plus trip back home that night of June 15, 2001, my wife Alissa spoke about all the insights and encouragement we had received from our discussion with M.K. My mind was dominated by one overriding thought which I did not express to my wife. I told myself, "The first thing I am doing tomorrow morning is to turn myself in to eBay."
Yes, everything M.K. said about the questionable character of L.S. was valid, everything about the criminal nature of the shill-bidding was true, but I had done it too. Before I could take this concern to the elders, I had to do what was right.
On the morning of the 16th, I wrote to eBay and told them what I had done. Their website indicated I could expect a response within 48 hours. I was concerned for our family's financial well being as being suspended from eBay would result in a loss of income for us. A lesser concern was the possibility of criminal charges against me. I worried less about that because I was voluntarily admitting what I had done and wanted to pay people back. I also called elder P.R. and requested a meeting with him and elder W.L. the next day. He consented and the next day, my wife and I went into great detail about the shill-bidding scandal.
Our perception of this meeting was that W.L. clearly understood the moral issue while P.R. acted uncomfortable and seemed reluctant to hear what we had to say. Two days later these two elders met with the pastor and the other elder (M.P.) Prior to that meeting, eBay had responded to me and decided to not suspend me but let me off with a warning. I immediately thanked them and asked them how I could determine who I had defrauded through the shill-bidding. They told me to research the bid histories of the items that I sold. I did an exhaustive search of every item I had sold in the last 90 days and found 5 instances of where I profited from the illegal shill-bidding. I had defrauded these people a total of $46.00 and within a week, had contacted them, admitting what I had done, and paid most of them back immediately through an online payment service called PayPal.
The June 19th meeting of the elders set the tone for the fateful future of that church. The two elders I spoke to were met with opposition by the pastor and another elder. The pastor's position on the matter was that the issue was a personal matter between me and L.S. and that it was my responsibility to follow the procedure in Matthew 18 to resolve the matter. I believed that the seriousness of the matter necessitated going directly to the session about the matter. (For the record, I did contact him by phone on June 18th and made clear my position on the criminal nature of the shill-bidding. He disagreed and maintained that what he was doing was ethical.) After all, this was not just an issue between me and L.S., but allegations of federal crimes being committed by at least four families in the church, at least one family outside the church (the B.D. family) and an 18 year old girl in Oregon.
What took place over the next three to four weeks was a living nightmare. On Sunday, June 24th P.R. called me aside privately and told me I had botched things so badly that it was unlikely the PCA could properly deal with the shill-bidding issue. He also told me that I had sinned by talking to pastor M.K. about the matter. The same day, I was summoned to a meeting at the pastor's house with all the elders. The pastor said two things I clearly remember. One was, "Dave, if what you are saying is true, the church owes you a debt of gratitude for bringing this to our attention." That was encouraging but I was extremely disheartened when he told the other elders something along the lines of , "Gentlemen, I don't know if any of us are competent to make an ethical judgment about this (the shill-bidding) This is a very complex matter."
When I got back to M.K. about what was going on, he was astonished and angry. I didn't tell him who it was who said I had sinned by talking to him but M.K. shot back, "I would laugh in that man's face!" When I told M.K. about the elders' unwillingness to acknowledge the criminal nature of the shill-bidding, I actually tried to defend their confusion by saying, "These men don't understand what is involved in shill-bidding." M.K. retorted, "These men don't understand the ten commandments!" These conversations with M.K.. didn't necessarily take place all at once. At another point in June or July, M.K. spoke of the possibility of the PCA taking drastic action by having two other church sessions step in and investigate the shill-bidding scandal. This never happened. I now wish that it had.
On about July 17th, M.K. had a face-to-face meeting with B.A. I called my wife before I came home that day to see if she had any information on the meeting. I was shocked to hear that B.A. had told M.K. that the Eyre family was apparently the only ones that engaged in the shill-bidding. B.A.'s own wife and his two underage teenagers had been involved in the shill-bidding! I could not believe this outrageous lie.
Upon hearing that information, I went immediately to the public library and went online to eBay. I went to the feedback section for the eBay sellers from the church. This involved five different eBay user ID's, two from the L.S. family, two from the B.A. family and one from the D.L. family. D.L. was a former deacon in the church and a white collar professional in the medical field. In an hour or two, I was able to retrieve and print out at least five bid histories from each family that verified the use of illegal shill-bidding on their auctions. Before this day, I had relied on my naive assumption that the other families would willingly admit to their participation in the shill-bidding. I was very wrong.
For about two to three weeks I felt that W.L. was my only ally among the elders but by July 21st it became apparent that he had fallen in line with pastor B.A. On that day, my wife and I were summoned to the pastor's house for another meeting with all the elders. My wife thought this was going to be our opportunity to present the evidence we had of the criminal nature of shill-bidding and the four families involved in it. I however had great fears about the meeting and told my wife, "I think this is going to be the worst day of our lives."
We were handed a paper from the session that was entitled "On the Eyre-S*** situation" The main thrust of the paper was a sidestepping of the criminal issue of the shill-bidding and instead blaming me for my supposed failure to follow Matthew 18. We were told that if the elders decided that shill-bidding was not a sin, we had to agree with them. Elder M.P. spoke at one point and talked about the fact that the combined experience of the four elders was around 100 years. He asked us, "Don't you think the Holy Spirit is working through us?"
At one memorable point, my wife began a sentence with the word "we" referring to herself and me regarding an opinion we had. The pastor interrupted her, pointed his finger at her, and in a threatening tone said, "You said we! You are speaking as the covenantal head of your family!" He went on to say that she was in rebellion and that if she didn't repent, she would destroy her marriage and her family and that she was the cause of all the trouble we were experiencing. After a pause, my wife asked me if I thought she was in rebellion and to my shame, I was speechless as were the other three elders.
Before the meeting closed, we were told that we were expected to work out our differences with L.S. and to come back to church the next day. As the meeting closed with prayer, my wife and I hurriedly gathered up our three youngest children as if we were leaving a burning building. My wife had been spiritually abused by the pastor and was taking it very hard. We came home and the first thing she did was to call her mother for comfort and reassurance. She asked her mom if she thought of her as being rebellious. I agonized over whether we should obey the elders and go to church the next day. I was so emotionally drained that I delayed my decision until the next morning.
The next day I said to myself, "Look, we have gone to the elders about a serious sin situation involving federal crimes and they are not dealing with it properly. I don't care about their 100 years of combined elder experience. Stealing is wrong and displeasing to Jesus Christ. It is insane to follow their advice to work things out with L.S. We need to get help outside of this church."
We did not go to church the next day but instead went to visit M.K. We were devastated by the turn of events and could not take it any more. M.K. suggested as an option that we drop our names from the church rolls to get out of the "meat grinder" as he called it. Two days later I did just that and handed in the resignation personally to P.R. It was a decision I wished I had never been forced to make. From 1992, this church had been a wonderful place for our family but was now a place we had to flee from. We tried to show the elders that a serious sin involving federal crimes had taken place in the church and it was being covered up. Can you imagine the absolute bitter disappointment and despair we felt?
In telling these events of June and July 2001, it is very frustrating as scores of important incidents come to mind and I can't recall their exact chronological occurrence. Different events come to mind that I don't exactly know how to put together in a coherent fashion. Here are some other things that took place during that awful time period:
When I told M.K. of the session's moral confusion over the shill-bidding, he advised me to "inundate" the session members with information proving the unethical and illegal nature of shill-bidding. When I started to do this, elder M.P. e-mailed me and informed me that as per the pastor, he had deleted my e-mail without even reading it. He advised me to follow Matthew 18.
With the mounting frustration of the elders' refusal to look into the shill-bidding, I contacted the FBI admitting what I had done. The FBI seemed to have a more Christian perspective and thought I should just try to persuade the elders out of a common sense of right and wrong. The FBI referred me to the Federal prosecutor's office where a man confirmed the illegality of the shill-bidding.
When I admitted my contact with the FBI to the pastor on July 21st, he said it was "unwise to get Caesar involved in this."
Sometime in June, I discovered a news story about three men who were indicted by a federal grand jury in California for shill-bidding on eBay. When I tried to give this information to P.R. he would not accept it.
Around July 17th, my wife talked to a licensed auctioneer and obtained our state's legal code that defined shill-bidding as a felony. She attempted to give this information to elder P.R. but he would not receive it.
At the June 24th meeting, I mentioned to the elders that I was going through a rough time and that the previous week I had discovered blood in my urine. To my dismay, none of the elders asked any follow-up questions about my physical health at that meeting or at any time later. It turned out to be a mild case of prostatitis and I was OK but these men failed to show any Christian concern whatsoever.
At one point, I spoke on the phone to Mark Rushdoony at Chalcedon (a Christian Reconstruction foundation) and without revealing the names or details, told him what was going on. His father, R.J. Rushdoony had passed away earlier that year and I wanted to know if he would have ever approved of Christians defrauding people through shill-bidding. Mark assured me that R.J. Rushdoony would have condemned the practice as fraudulent and a form of theft. (See his comments in "The Institutes of Biblical Law" on page 453.) The first time I attempted to call them, I broke down in tears and it took me a couple of minutes to be able to speak coherently to the woman who answered the phone. She took my number and said Mark would call me back. When Mark called back, I again had some difficulty keeping my composure.
After I approached the elders about the shill-bidding, it came to my attention that another family had been taught by L.S. about how to shill-bid on eBay. The wife was deeply troubled by the idea of shill-bidding and refused to participate. For about two months, she wrestled with her concerns and wondered whether she should approach the pastor or elders about it. She was greatly relieved when she learned that we had taken the matter to the elders. This woman was in the late stages of pregnancy at the time and I thank God that her distress did not result in a miscarriage or premature birth.
At one point we thought L.S. was blackmailing the pastor. We could not find any other explanation for the pastor's failure to do what was morally right.
Even though evidence to the contrary was mounting, I continued to hold to a naive belief that the pastor could not possibly cover up this sin. I kept imagining a scenario where he would have called the four eBay families to a meeting where he would have said something like, "Dave here has discovered we have been doing something wrong. Folks, we need to do the right thing, research our bid histories and pay people back." I would have expected that he might refer to Proverbs 28:13 "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy."
At the June 24th meeting the pastor said they needed to look into the shill-bidding matter and seemed to give the expectation that the other elders should be researching it. On or about July 16th, elder M.P. called and when I asked him if he had done any research on shill-bidding he said no. Later that day he came to my house with beer and cigars (some Reformed Christians find this acceptable if done in moderation) and I tried to get through to him that the shill-bidding was not only a sin but a federal crime. His ears seemed stopped to my message and he could only keep repeating the mantra of following Matthew 18. I raised my voice with him and he later used that against me in his report back to the other elders.
From about June 19th to July 23rd, I lost about 20 lbs. Each night, I could only sleep for about four hours. I would wake up shaking, teeth chattering and crying. After we resigned from the church, the weight loss stopped and some sleep was restored but we wept off and on until about the end of March 2002.
The elders' lack of moral clarity hampered my ability as a father to guide my three oldest children. Thankfully my oldest daughter Rebekah quickly saw the moral issue for what it was. She had participated in some of the shill-bidding on a small level. She contacted her buyers and confessed what she had done and paid them back. One buyer from Alaska who had bought a clothing item wrote back a very kind response. He was impressed by her honesty and integrity and said that whenever the item of clothing was worn he would remember my daughter and her character.
Rebekah wept when she read this response. My son and other daughter were slower in recognizing the true nature of the moral issue at hand. And how could you expect them to when the church elders that they are supposed to trust cannot figure out that stealing is wrong and displeasing to God? My son sold an item on eBay that L.S. shill-bid on four times. This resulted in the buyer being defrauded about $69. I paid the man back the defrauded amount plus 20%. I paid back most of the money but required my son to pay part of it. My reasoning was that it was my responsibility for him getting involved in the shill-bidding. I should have exercised better oversight. The other daughter took considerably longer to convince but I am happy to report that she is no longer morally confused about shill-bidding.
In a July 1st meeting at the church where I took two witnesses to take the second step of Matthew 18 with L.S., one of the witnesses, D.L. (whose family also had been involved in shill-bidding) was actually persuaded by L.S. that the shill-bidding was O.K.! This man had been a deacon in the church and was also part of a deacon training program yet he was now being persuaded that evil was good and darkness was light. Thankfully, the other witness, elder W.L. would not buy this argument and insisted that the shill-bidding was wrong. Whatever hopes I had about this meeting leading to the correct resolution of the shill-bidding scandal were dashed in the coming weeks.
On Easter day 2002, D.L. with tears in his eyes asked for my forgiveness for not standing with me in the situation at the former church. He was not very specific and he never mentioned the fact that his family had participated in the shill-bidding, but I forgave him.
Elder W.L. provided rare moments of support and compassion. When I paid back defrauded customers and e-mailed them my confession and apologies, I copied the emails to the other eBay church families and also the elders. The only response I ever got (other than the defrauded customers) was from W.L. who told me in an e-mail that I was honoring Christ by what I was doing. When my wife called him to express concern for my physical, emotional and spiritual well being, W.L. was very compassionate and gave my wife Bible verses and the comment that I had performed the function of the "watchman" in the shill-bidding issue. This encouragement was short lived though as W.L. eventually agreed with and signed off on the paper the elders gave to us on July 21st.
When I tried to reason with the pastor in two e-mails, the responses were ominous. I was personally threatened with charges being brought against me if I didn't follow what he said. These e-mails were to a certain degree traumatizing to me and made me very fearful of the pastor.
A misuse of the procedure in Matthew 18 became the trump card of the Pastor and L.S. Any accusation of wrongdoing could expect to be challenged with the query, "Did you follow Matthew 18 with him?" To give you an idea of how quickly and strongly this had become ingrained in some of the members, I give you this incident as an example.
I was having a disagreement about the application of Matthew 18 with P.R. He was saying it had to be followed without exception. I gave him a scenario. Suppose a man visits your church. He has a reputation as a professing Christian and is a member in good standing at an evangelical church. You find out later that when he visited your church, he was alone with your 17-year old daughter and touched her inappropriately in a sexual way. Now my question to P.R. was, "What should happen here? Should you or someone else confront this man or should the daughter follow Matthew 18 and confront him by herself?" P.R.'s initial answer was that his daughter had to confront the man alone. I'm thankful to report that within hours, P.R. changed his position and said that the father or an elder could confront the man. However, his initial response displayed an alarming willingness to throw biblical common sense out the window and unquestioningly accept cult-like teachings from a pastor skilled in persuading and manipulating people.
Even though we had resigned from the church, the story was not over. Our only hope was that through prayer, and someone coming to their senses that the scandal could be exposed and resolved in a way that would honor God. In future installments, you will learn what happened to the church and our family. God Bless and thanks for reading.
To be continued...