Pastor Stewart-Allen Clark of First General Baptist Church in Malden, Missouri has issued his first public statement in months after becoming the poster child for misogynistic Christian leaders everywhere.
Back in February, Clark delivered a sermon saying women needed to lose weight to prevent their husbands from straying (as if it’s their fault), that they should emulate Melania Trump (whose husband, by the way, strayed repeatedly), that women “don’t need to look like a butch,” and that a friend of his “has put a ‘divorce weight’ on his wife.” Those were just some of the low-lights.
That clip soon went viral and Clark’s sermon began circulating around the world.
Making matters worse, it turned out this wasn’t even a one-time problem. Another sermon excerpt, from two years ago, showed Clark saying many of the same things, including the notion that “physical beauty is within the reach of every woman” — by which he means skinny and nothing else — and more criticism of women who “look like butch.”
On March 2, the Deacon Ministry Team at First General Baptist Church put out an extremely brief statement on their website. It said “Pastor Stewart-Allen Clark has taken a leave of absence and is seeking professional counseling.”
I couldn’t tell how serious that statement was when they released it. A leave of absence was necessary, sure, but it wouldn’t help if Clark held on to those same awful sexist beliefs. Professional counseling was good, too, but not if Clark was going to see some faith-based counselor who told him his beliefs were biblically sound but needed to be delivered with more grace.
The public was never told who Clark was seeing, what his “rehab” looked like, or anything else for that matter. In fact, they locked down their entire social media presence.
Their Facebook page was shut down. They stopped streaming any of their services on YouTube. Their archive of past sermons was removed from Vimeo. They made their Twitter account private. Clark disappeared from the internet almost entirely. Even the church’s usual hashtags (like #1GBMalden) had no hits, suggesting to me that church members were either told not to use them or that the church stopped meeting.
That finally changed last night.
(I wish I could tell you I know this for reasons that don’t involve obsessively checking their social media pages every single day for the past several weeks because I figured this was coming…)
For the first time in nearly six weeks, there was an update on the church’s website featured a statement from Clark and another one from the Deacons.
(The church’s Twitter account, still locked down, also includes a new website URL: fgbcmalden.org instead of 1gbmalden.org. But both URLs currently go to the same place.)
Dear Church & Community,
On Sunday, February 21, 2021, I delivered a sermon about men’s needs in the marital relationship. In the sermon, I made insensitive remarks about women and made statements deemed unbiblical.
To the ladies within the church, ladies in the community, and those viewing our Livestream; I want to say I am deeply sorry for any and all pain or distress that my words brought on you.
I want to say to the church that I’m truly sorry that I embarrassed you. I have no one else to blame but myself, and I own the hurt I have caused to both people inside and outside the community.
Since February 28, I have taken a leave of absence. I am meeting regularly with a professional counselor. I have secured an accountability partner, and we are and will continue to meet regularly.
I recognize and understand that what I said was imprudent and discourteous. I sincerely ask for your forgiveness and to be restored as your pastor. I genuinely believe this is the best way forward.
Sincerely Yours & His,
It’s a start.
So much goes unanswered, though. We still don’t know what kind of counselor he’s seeing. It’s not clear if he’s apologizing for the way he spoke or the underlying beliefs themselves. We don’t know when (or if) he plans to step into the pulpit again — though he says he hopes to return soon.
The Deacons are also light on details:
We, the deacons of the First General Baptist Church of Malden, Missouri, offer this unreserved apology to our congregation, our surrounding communities, our denomination, and the followers of Jesus Christ everywhere.
As deacons we became complacent. We accepted God’s blessings toward our church as signs of His favor without adequately attending to our responsibility that the complete principles, truths, and love of Christ are presented from our church’s pulpit. We bear the blame for not offering our pastor counsel, correction, and restoration when errors or inappropriate content was presented.
We are called to model Christ’s love through forgiveness and restoration toward our Pastor. This is our goal and we encourage the congregation toward the same love and forgiveness.
We should all pray for the unity and harmony of our body that we could advance the cause of Christ in our own lives, in the life of our congregation, and in the lives we are called to witness in the surrounding communities.
Let us all trust Christ that He will accomplish His purposes for the Glory of His Kingdom.
It’s clear that the church’s leaders want Clark to return to the pulpit. What they won’t say is what Clark did wrong. Again, was the problem his language or his beliefs? Because if those beliefs don’t change, this church is still going to have problems in the future.
There’s absolutely no indication anyone running this place has learned anything over the past six weeks. It sounds like they’re just hoping the scrutiny has subsided and the public’s attention is elsewhere.
There’s also no acknowledgment — from Clark or the Deacons — that these problems have been going on for years. So are they (half-heartedly) apologizing due to all the bad publicity? Because they don’t seem to realize they’ve been allowing this misogyny to represent their church long before they became synonymous with it.
For what its worth, the church’s social media accounts are still offline as I write this. It’s not clear when Clark will be preaching again, but it could be as soon as this weekend.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)