Jubilee Baptist Church

“Sort-Of Socialist” Church Pastor Accused of Sexual Misconduct

on December 19, 2019

Last week Buzzfeed News reported on a “quasi-socialist” Baptist church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that is fighting the “ills of capitalism” by paying off the debt of its congregants and community members.  John Thornton Jr. is one of three co-pastors at Jubilee that the piece glorifies:

He’s a classic extrovert who thrives on more conversations, more coffee meetings just to chat. But he’s funnier, and far less dorky-dad, than your typical youth pastor. He’s also a raging socialist who wrote his first divinity school paper on how the church should focus on debt forgiveness, and he hasn’t shut up about it since. 

He is also accused of “abusive sexual behavior via online” by a young woman, the INDY Week reports. The woman alleges Thornton pressured her to send him nude photos, undress for him via a FaceTime video connection, and engage in sexual conversations.

Thornton denies abusive behavior, but not the sexting.

“I was very interested in us dating or being in this romantic relationship of some kind, and within that context, the sexting and sending pictures seemed to make sense,” Thornton said. “Knowing what I do, I was completely shocked to see the language of sexual abuse used to describe the situation as I know it. I am open to hearing how I misunderstood our relationship. I am open to knowing what I could have done differently or what I did that was hurtful.”

John, let’s start with you could have asked the young lady out to dinner instead of explicit direct messages. Treated her with respect by seeking to protect her (and your) chastity. Obeyed Christian sexual ethics that offer protections against sexual misconduct. Then you could have preached on singleness as a high calling and sexual gratification reserved for marriage between a man and woman.

It seems a focus upon the “ills of capitalism” left aside the dangers of sin.

After reading the Buzzfeed article, it was clear that morality was not one of Thornton’s priorities. Additionally,  Jubilee Baptist Church is “sex-positive,” as the INDY reports. In other words, anything goes when it comes to sex and sexuality.

Thornton has been placed on paid leave until January 12, as the allegations are investigated further.

Thornton might be one of three pastors of a small lefty Baptist congregation. But don’t underestimate his growing influence. Thornton is somewhat of a rising star among the Religious Left. He regularly contributed to Jim Wallis’s Sojourners and the left-leaning Catholic journal Commonweal Magazine. 

But I want to set the allegations against Thornton aside for a moment and address Jubilee’s “sort-of socialist” mission.

We learn from the Buzzfeed piece that Jubilee is a “quasi-socialist, anti-burnout, anti-racist, LGBTQ-affirming church focused on debt forgiveness and worker solidarity.” It’s also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. No surprise there.

Here’s how Buzzfeed describes Jubilee’s mission:

Jubilee is not about changing the world in the “we’re gonna win the war on Christmas,” soldiers-in-the-culture-war sort of way, with its focus on rooting out any element of society that could be considered “secular,” from Harry Potter to queer people. Nor in the “we’re gonna collect change for overseas missions” or “volunteer once a month at a soup kitchen” sort of way. Not even in an “I’m going to try to be a kinder person” sort of way. Jubilee believes that truly following Jesus’s teachings, especially in the contemporary, capitalist world, requires a radical reconsideration of wealth and work and power. It means working toward revolution: political, economic, and social.

I once took a class on collectivism and failed utopias. I’m pretty sure the synopsis for the class read identically to the description above. “A radical reconsideration of wealth and work and power. It means working toward revolution: political, economic, and social.” Funny enough, a Wednesday night (Bible study?) group is mentioned in the article. The author notes they aren’t reading Galatians, but Karl Marx’s Capital.

It is Liberation Theology repackaged for a younger “woke” audience.

“All the sermons I’d heard before were always so inward-looking, like, talk to Jesus all the time, and you’ll get rich and prosper. But Jubilee addressed the precarious position we’re all in — the general feeling that we’re all f***ked,” Josh Fugate, a Jubilee church member, told Buzzfeed.

He continues: “I mean, I got laid off, I’m in debt. What happens if I get sick? Most of my problems aren’t actually spiritual. Jubilee is fixated on working people. On keeping our hands in the dirt.”

It’s not that providing financial support is wrong. There’s much to affirm about churches providing grocery money to single mothers and financial assistance to congregants and community members struggling to make ends meet. The glaring problem with Jubilee, Thornton, and the lot is that the Gospel has been dropped from focus, only to be mentioned when politically useful.

I’ll share something personal here briefly, in regards to my point. Recently, my husband had to close his small business because it was not able to pay our bills. Amid our disappointment and anxieties, our church family has been incredibly supportive. I am so grateful for our fellow congregants’ love, prayers, and generosity. But I don’t go to church because it has a mission to fix my earthly problems. The church would never be able to keep up.

I go to my local church to be reminded regularly of God’s purpose for me here on earth. On Sunday morning, I want to hear sermons warning me of the dangers of sin, instead of scapegoating the “ills of capitalism,” “powers of whiteness,” or even the dangers of liberal Christianity. We all need to hear stories from the pulpit of the imperfect heroes and heroines of the faith who gave up the comforts of this world to tell of Jesus. We should be participating in our church evangelism efforts. And, most vital, we need the church to continually remind us of what Christ did for us and what He continues to do.

When a church prioritizes anything over the Good News of Jesus, it is doomed. No matter (or especially) how radical an idea they have.

  1. Comment by Dan W on December 19, 2019 at 7:17 am

    “Funny enough, a Wednesday night (Bible study?) group is mentioned in the article. The author notes they aren’t reading Galatians, but Karl Marx’s Capital.”

    Yep, that pretty much says it all…
    (Thanks Chelsen for an excellent article!)

  2. Comment by David Gingrich on December 21, 2019 at 7:29 am

    I thought this said it all, as well. “Most of my problems aren’t actually spiritual.”

  3. Comment by Randall Burgess on December 19, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Thanks Chelsen,

    Looks like another neo-Pelagianist world pleasing temple, “people are basically good,” and they want to fix the world while ignoring and blocking the transformation of the Holy Spirit, ignoring confession and repentance.

    “form of godliness?” A glaze.

    “If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He doesn’t ask you to make it right; He only asks you to accept the light of truth, and then He will make it right. A child of the light will confess sin instantly and stand completely open before God. But a child of the darkness will say, “Oh, I can explain that.”

    Oswald Chambers

    We need less explaining in our own lives and in the lives of those who presume to hold themselves up as examples. Just confess and repent. And if a professional, submit to discipline.

    Thanks for taking the time to write the article.

  4. Comment by Phil on December 19, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    I have to say I’m disappointed with IRD’s lack of interest in addressing the real issue of abuse and misconduct among clergy and religious leaders that occurs across the partisan divides in our country. This is a real problem for all churches on all sides and all you’re doing is mentioning it in pieces like this for propaganda purposes against liberals. Where is the call for Christians to adopt sound policies and practices (like Safe Sanctuary) to protect against predication from clergy? Where are the references to programs or support services for Christians who may have been abused or harassed by their leaders? Where is the even subtle acknowledgment that even in a church where the pastor says and preaches all the right things and is thought highly by all, that we can never truly know entirely what is in their heart? Instead you made it what was a much larger and more serious issue all about your organization’s vendetta against all things liberal, as usual.

  5. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on December 20, 2019 at 11:24 am

    Actually, IRD covered the Sovereign Grace sex abuse scandal (I don’t think anyone would peg that group as liberal): https://juicyecumenism.com/tag/sovereign-grace-ministries/ Chelsen specifically covered the Paige Patterson scandal here: https://juicyecumenism.com/2018/05/23/paige-patterson-boys-club-mentality/ and here: https://juicyecumenism.com/2018/08/28/southern-baptist-blues/

  6. Comment by David on December 20, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    Amen. It has been rumored that the IRD was established in part by conservative Catholics to reduce the influence of liberal Protestant denominations. I can believe this given the silence about Catholic problems and decline of membership. There is always gloating when there is a scandal or decline in other churches.

  7. Comment by Rebecca on December 20, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Liberalism/Leftism in or out of the church is anti-Christian and that is what the good people here are against. The Marxist plan for taking over the West is to bring it down morally. The liberal churches haven’t been “liberal” in many years, but Leftist. There is a difference in a private sin and the promotion of sin publicly. The “liberals” in the churches today promote sin.

  8. Comment by Bob on December 19, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    Mysticism liberalism and social justice are all connected. Not surprised sexual misconduct happened here. Bad tree bad fruit. Reminds me vaguely of Brandan Robertson promoting polyamory and social justice. This will not bring in young people. It has a track record of dissolving churches and replacing them with left leaning youth that are left poor and without the ability to think using common sense.

  9. Comment by Pop Salad on December 29, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    If one has an unbiblical view of sexuality, that is that anything except marital heterosexual monogamy for the engagement of sexual activity, one is likely to approve of or engage in sexual sin. Sex outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage is always wrong, always perverse, always a sin. And sin is sin! When the church makes other allowances they should expect this type of behavior!

  10. Comment by Michael Bullock on December 20, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    I sure could is a.new car. I wonder if I join online that they would pay for it. I have been following trends in the Catholic church on Vortex . It seems everywhere I look churches are falling into the same traps.

  11. Comment by Dad needs help on December 28, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for addressing this issue. The me too movement, I believe, has empowered women to speak up. I’m so thankful for this movement and the accountability it has brought to the abusers. However, I wonder how you, Chelsea, consider President Trumps sexual encounters that have been reported to be abusive? I really appreciate our economy and the positive things that are happening. However, I have two teen age daughters. Our POTUS has a history of sexual misconduct and speaks in sexist tones towards women (I recognize these are persons he considers his enemies). Can you help me speak to my daughters who find the POTUS’s actions repulsive? My daughters are scared that his behavior will enable their male peers to treat women the same. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts. Could you write an editorial on this? Thanks for your consideration.

  12. Comment by Brother Thom on January 2, 2020 at 7:00 am

    We see the overt sexual propaganda machine at work in the United Methodist Church which will dissolve next year over sexuality. Progressives have formed UMCNext to further the case of the the LGBTQIA community inside the UMC. Not happy with the progress being made on that front, they now have formed the ResistHarm group that will serve as its army in attacking traditionalist who want nothing more than to follow the scripture. For progressives this is no longer a battle they want to win, but a war in which they must conquer their opponent.

  13. Comment by Marlar Price on May 4, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    I’m not surprised here about John Thornton!
    I know the whole history of how one of the co-pastor stole the church from Ephesus Baptist Church which was Southern Baptist!
    I’m one of the church leaders from NC Myanmar Baptist Church, we used the Ephesus Church building because of very kind Church elders were helping us plant the Burmese language Church, they didn’t have a senior pastor when we started, so I know all the elders and their faith! Around Spring 2016 they got the new pastor which is now one of the co-pastor Jubilee Baptist Church, long story short they took over the EBC and I had to deal with all of them and John was the nasty to us at the meeting, email and I always have that uneasy feeling because they way he treated us, yes he can be abusive and bully from our experience and our Burmese pastor( Southern Baptist ) was really surprised and shock after our first meeting! They kicked us out only gave us 4 weeks’ notice! They don’t like us because we are Burmese, they told us that they support Rohingya and we as Burmese how we should not be talking about them! They said not who they said they were! anti-racist I can share all the details and show you the emails from him

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