I squinted in the sunlight, holding my hand over my eyes as we wound our way up the gravel driveway to our trailer in West Virginia. I was in the passenger seat of a utility van, Terry was driving, and Patrick Woods, we all called him “Popeye” because he looked kinda like Popeye the cartoon, was in the back. We clambered to a stop and I climbed down from the van, careful not to fall, seeing as I was almost nine months pregnant, and then we stood a while in the summer sun to visit more with Popeye. He was a very kind, older man, who had owned the property we lived on, but gave it to the church some time before. He lived next door. We chatted about the work needing to be done, mostly mowing, and the ministry. He looked over at me and said in his unique drawl, “Doll baby, I hope you make it okay out here on this hill all by yourself.” I couldn’t tell him, but I wasn’t making it very well. I was so very homesick!
“A preacher’s wife has a lonely life,” he said as he gave me his partially toothless smile, his white hair blowing a bit in the breeze. I didn’t know that the words he spoke were almost a prophecy over my life, for it has been lonely.
The ministry is a calling of the Lord, and a blessed calling. But it has its challenges. The main challenge I face is, of course, being away from my family. No matter what church I join, and no matter how kind the people are, it’s not home. The church members have known each other for years in most cases, while I’ve known them only minutes in comparison. They can’t possibly love you right away. It takes time. Years. They all know the best restaurants, the best routes to take to certain stores, and what parts of town to avoid. Things that anyone knows about “home”. But this isn’t my home.
Long before Facebook or MySpace, there were places called chat forums. It’s the same as Facebook, really. You post pictures, discuss topics within a “thread” and chat with people of common interests. In my few spare moments, and in desperation for someone to talk to, I found one such forum for Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB) called “Vessels Unto Honour” (VUH), deriving its name from 2 Timothy 2:21, If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. The ladies there were all prim and perfect. No one had a bad day, or if they did, they could expect someone in the group to give them a good dose of scripture. I was very careful to word things the right way, and since I love writing, I enjoyed chatting and sharing stories or experiences in this way.
Years went by and I had the opportunity of meeting five of the ladies in person. Two of them in particular were like kindred spirits. They were very down-to-earth and relaxed. Since I am rather uptight, I found this instantly appealing and welcoming. We became very good friends, and I still call them friends today, some eight years after joining the group. When Facebook came into being, we all sort of migrated that direction. The forum went from being a tightly controlled online group to a less-tightly controlled secret Facebook group. I think there are three admins, but there very well could be more.
Last Saturday night, as I was setting my alarm on my phone to get up bright and early for Sunday church, I saw that I had a Facebook message, but it was not from a “friend”. I opened it and read the following:
This same post was copied onto the group page, along with this added warning:
Dear ladies, It is with great sadness that the Admins had to remove Valerie Basham’s membership to VUH. Some of you may have seen her posts promoting Calvinistic doctrine and the new direction she and her husband have chosen to take….(post written above, followed by)… The Admins have also chosen to “unfriend” her from our personal pages because we see the necessity to protect ourselves and our families from the doctrinal heresy of Calvinism. Slew foot has a way of slipping in doctrine that “sounds” right but will take away from the [sic] Christ’s complete work on the cross for all mankind.
Okay, so where do I begin? I suppose at the beginning of Admin “A”‘s original message to me. Let’s look at “Our hearts break”. Interesting choice of words, for they certainly broke mine, too. Their hearts broke so much, that they wrote me many times before this message to see what I believe, to ask me to return to the true faith, and they also let me know they were praying for me. No. None of that happened. They didn’t even have the decency to call me and treat me like a real person. Rather, I was just a name online to them. Their flowery words cannot compensate for poor behavior.
The quote they used is taken from – well, who knows! They never divulged their source. I do NOT believe that Calvin was correct on everything. In fact, I, nor my husband, have ever read Calvin, though we are not afraid to do so. I am NOT a Presbyterian. Calvin was NOT a good man. (King David wasn’t either, nor was sword swinging Peter. And no surprise, neither am I a good woman.) I certainly do not consent to the murder of Bible believers nor do I approve of Calvin’s participation in it. Had they read my blog more thoroughly (did they read it at all?), they would know that I addressed the name “Calvinism” HERE (see point #1).
“The teachings you post go against all that VUH stands for according to the King James Bible…” I only read, quote, use, love, and study the wonderful King James Bible! I have learned all I know of theology from that blessed book. This accusation is totally unfounded.
The words about or from Calvin are meaningless to me. I don’t care about the man at all. I follow Christ through His Word.
As far as this being something “new” for me and my husband, well, Terry has believed this since 2007-ish and I wrote publicly about it a year ago on this very blog. So, “new” is a relative term, I guess.
I can hear you now…or is that my mother? “Valerie, shouldn’t a Christian overlook this silliness and move on?” Yes, I debated with myself about this very point. I am posting this for five reasons:
- I was removed from the group, and then publicly declared a heretic, not the other way around. I could not take questions from other members or answer the accusation in the forum itself. So I bring my case here. When I was locked out of the group, my silence was forced by the sovereign decision of the Admins. (Irony, yes?)
- I was never approached privately and asked to leave the group on my own. They didn’t want me to leave on my own, otherwise they could not talk about my error. I had to be made an example, like I was a child in school.
- I was never previously reprimanded by the admins for any reason. I never sowed discord on or off the forum with any of its members. My blog is my private property and my words are protected by the first amendment to the Constitution. VUH bears no responsibility, nor can they dictate, any thing in my private life. They only have control of my actions on the forum, which as I said, were never inappropriate. However, as of 10 PM last Saturday, they decided that my private life was fair game. This is where I take a stand.
- I was later told that I violated the group’s statement of faith. I should have been shown where I erred from their doctrinal statement in their first message, but I had to request a copy. After I read it, I realized why they didn’t do that in the beginning: I don’t violate their statement of faith. If I were writing it, I would word two things a little differently, but I don’t violate it. I actually agree with it as it is, this very minute. It’s very vague, and it says nothing directly against Calvinism.
- If they are going to warn the group about my heresy, they should, in all fairness, warn them about Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, John Bunyan, John Clarke, Roger Williams, and host of other ancient Baptist’s writings. They were all Calvinists, too.
Well, I did try to speak with them privately since I could not access the group. Admin “A” never answered my questions. She finally said, “Stop messaging me.” I later had a conversation via Facebook Messenger with Admin “B”. She informed me of the reason for my sudden removal:
“I have a friend that I invited to VUH that has started to follow your blog. I have invested many hours helping her grow. I had to warn her of the doctrine and I unfriended you to take a stand for her benefit. I wouldn’t have done it had it not be[en] for that sole reason.”
I have no idea who this “friend” is that started following my blog. If you are that lady, and you’re still reading, then you are my hero. Who does this Admin think she is, that she can dictate to another woman an opinion on what to read? Maybe she said, “Read the blog by the Calvinist lady and then you can ask me your questions”, but I doubt it, because they wouldn’t answer my questions. “I don’t want to debate,” she told me later. No, they don’t. They want to proclaim your faults behind your back in the privacy of a secret Facebook group. It sounds like this Admin wants to have her own followers, rather than trusting God to lead Christians. She said later that I should not to let this “tear [me] down so much.” I suppose she wasn’t crying like I was. I replied, “Realizing that you all place man’s will over God’s will comforts me as to whom I am talking. God is sovereign. He rules.” She responded with, “Ok, Valerie. Don’t get nasty. It’s not becoming.” (I’m wondering what she thought was “nasty”?)
My blog has mistakes. It has error. I am human. I get things wrong all the time. But I strive to follow the Bible, I quote the Bible, I lean upon the Bible. If you read this blog, you have freedom to check my facts, to read the Bible yourself, to pray. You have the freedom to disagree, to hate me, to never read here again! It’s up to you. For anyone to tell you just whom you should befriend or what you should read is against the very grace by which a Holy God has given us. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-29) Man’s yoke is bondage. If you read here, you are reading the journey of a sinner saved by the free grace of Jesus Christ, and I hope and pray you will come to know that grace, too. Despite the opinion of the Admins, salvation only comes by a work of God upon your heart. Plain and simple.
Well, I got up on Sunday after only four hours of sleep. I ran 2.5 miles, I dressed, I went to church. I leaned upon the Lord (like I need to do every Sunday, not just when I’m sleep deprived! Shame on me!) as I taught Sunday school. I cried during the singing of “Amazing Grace” in the morning service, making big wet spots on my blouse. I kept thinking of these friends saying “we need to protect ourselves and our families from Valerie…” and I cried more. But by the grace of God, I made it. They did not win. This group is called “Vessels Unto Honour”. But unto who’s honour is it? If it is for the Lord’s honor, things will be done according to His Word.
I will continue writing. I will continue making mistakes, learning, and sharing my journey. Why? Because “they” want me to stop. My mom loves Columbo, and she taught me to love him too. I think he says it best:
(my “superior” is the Lord Jesus Christ)
Thanks for reading.