Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Maybe this would have helped.... (or not)
Another Lark News classic:
MENLO PARK, Calif. — When Brent Libby started attending Green Valley Baptist church, he was surprised at the icy reception he received.
The reason: the pastor knew all about Libby. He'd read about him on WolfWarning.com, a website which chronicles bad behavior by local church-goers. Libby's file included a photograph and comments written by his former pastor that said, "Argues with me over minor doctrinal points after every service. Thinks he knows Greek. Not interested in maturing, just debate. Wolf rating: 3."
"This site is our advance warning system," says pastor Jeff Wheeler of Green Valley Baptist. "It's long overdue."
WolfWarning was started in 2006 by a pastor in Corvallis, Ore., who was tired of seeing troublesome Christians bounce from one church to another, causing the same types of problems. The website now has local chapters in 112 cities.
"When pastors hear about this, they latch on real quick," says the founder.
WolfWarning is restricted to members and is full of dossier-like "files" on people who've been identified by a pastor as a wolf. The pastor gives that person a "wolf rating" to indicate how troublesome he or she was. A rating of 1 or 2 means a minor annoyance; 9 and 10 mean a bona fide church-splitter.
Premium members get an alert each time a new wolf is posted.
"It can be addictive," says one pastor who slips out during Sunday morning worship if he sees someone in the audience he suspects of being on WolfWarning.
A perusal of WolfWarning files finds comments that range from "Distracting, flamboyant worship style," to "Always complains, never volunteers," to the more serious "Tries to seduce lonely single mothers." A typical post from January reads, "She prophesies in a harrowing wail, usually at end of worship time. Accuses pastor of quenching spirit if stopped. Wolf rating: 5."
A pastor in Austin recently changed his sermon because he recognized someone from WolfWarning in the pew on Sunday morning. The "wolf" reportedly would join a small group and take over discussions to preach his own version of the prosperity message. The pastor remarked during his sermon that anyone who spoke more than 3 minutes total in their small group meeting was "probably full of pride." He encouraged people to set an egg timer to keep people from going over time.
"That guy never came back to our church," he says. "WolfWarning helped me protect my flock."
Pastors who belong to the growing WolfWarning community adhere to a code of ethics that includes "no ax-grinding," and "no posting until you have honestly tried to shepherd this person for 6 months, or until they leave."
But some don't like the idea of casting aspersions. A pastor in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., refused to join WolfWarning because he thought "it was no way to treat sheep." But within 8 months all the troublemakers in town ended up at his church. He joined WolfWarning and was "golblasted" at how many wolves he recognized.
"I thought we were struggling because I was unspiritual or lazy," he says. "Now I realize I'd created a wolf magnet."
He quickly became the most active member of his local WolfWarning chapter.
"It gave me a new confidence in ministry," he says.
When "wolf" Brent Libby visited Jeff Wheeler of Green Valley Baptist to niggle over a theological point, Wheeler cut to the chase and told Libby he'd been warned about his argumentative spirit. Libby was stunned and angry, but has since reformed. He now debates his ideas in national online chat rooms so not to poison local relationships. He also lobbied to have his file removed from WolfWarning.
"I'm practicing positive behavior," he says. "They've already lowered my wolf rating to 1."