A 21-year-old minister from Arlington who endorsed Joe Biden for president on social media said the pastor of the church where he completed a year-long pastoral internship told him his license to the gospel ministry would “not be renewed.”
Faith Memorial Baptist Church in Archer City—a congregation uniquely aligned with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—licensed David Bumgardner to the ministry on July 19.
Bumgardner, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Scarborough College, delivered his farewell sermon to the church on Sept. 6 after completing his internship as assistant minister.
Three days later, he posted a brief essay on his personal Facebook page identifying President Donald Trump as “a threat to the flourishing of my neighbors … to national security … (and) to national unity,” and accusing Trump of “stoking the fires of civil and racial unrest.”
Consequently, Bumgardner—who identifies himself as a Republican—endorsed Biden, while stipulating he did not endorse everything in the Democratic Party platform.
“I am voting for Joe Biden to get the most egotistical, hypocritical, divisive, deranged, and dangerous man to ever hold presidential office out of the Oval” Office, he wrote. “I am voting for Joe Biden because he will bring back decency to the White House.”
Social media firestorm erupts
The post prompted a flurry of critical responses who accused him of “supporting murderers” and obviously not being a “Biblical Christian.”
“If you vote for Biden/Harris you should not be trusted, respected, a minister, or a leader,” one individual who is not a member of the church wrote.
On Twitter, a respondent characterized Bumgardner’s position as “the spiritual dead-end of evangelical effeminate morality.”
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A far-right religious website, reformationcharlotte.org, that published an article about Bumgardner’s Facebook post wrote, “If someone who claims to be a Christian and has studied the Bible for a considerable amount of time actually believes this way, there is no way around it; this person has not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and has no business preaching or leading a church.”
“I was flooded with notifications and messages. I was called a baby-killer, cop-killer, race-baiter, unqualified minister, pedophile and fake Christian, despite the fact that my classical, conservative, orthodox and evangelical theological convictions have not changed.” Bumgardner said.
He added he had been “harassed and slandered by some of my peers on campus,” but he also voiced gratitude to other fellow students and young ministers who defended and supported him.
Licensed to ministry with an expiration date
Bumgardner soon learned from Avery Sprey, pastor of Faith Memorial Baptist Church, his license to the ministry would not be renewed.
An agreement Bumgardner had signed prior to his licensing stated if the church or its pastor believed his words or actions warranted it, they reserved the right either to renew the license or allow it to expire at the end of the year. It further stipulated Bumgardner would seek to maintain Christlike character, grow in demonstrating the fruit of the Holy Spirit and not waver doctrinally.
While the church voted to license Bumgardner to the ministry, the agreement was a private document between the pastor and intern.
Both Sprey and Bumgardner acknowledged some previous social media posts had been topics of discussion and concern.
Sprey said he had wanted the church to license Bumgardner to the ministry earlier, but he first wanted to ensure Bumgardner demonstrated the necessary wisdom and maturity.
“When I saw perceived growth, I wanted to honor that,” Sprey explained.
However, because of his continued concern about Bumgardner’s social media presence, he developed the agreement that included the clause regarding expiration or renewal of the license. Both Bumgardner and Sprey conceded the agreement rendered it more akin to a “learner’s permit” than a license.
“I made a mistake. If you have to put an expiration date on a license, you probably shouldn’t issue it in the first place,” Sprey said. “I’m new at this and learning the hard way.”
Posts ‘do not promote gospel unity’
After Bumgardner posted his endorsement, Sprey went to the former intern’s home to discuss the matter with him and to let Bumgardner know he was considering not renewing his license to the ministry.
“I couldn’t care less about his political views,” Sprey said. “My concern is that his social media posts cause discord among brothers and do not promote gospel unity.”
Bumgardner pressed Sprey to exercise church discipline against one individual who regularly attends but is not a member of Faith Memorial Baptist Church. He pointed to what he considered racist social media posts by that individual.
“Church discipline is not for those outside the church,” said Sprey, who has served Faith Memorial as part of the SBTC’s church revitalization program.
He noted he had spent a long time seeking to help the church establish clear membership policies necessary before church discipline is possible.
Decision to make the issue public
Once Bumgardner learned Sprey decided to allow his ministry license to expire, he chose to make the issue a matter of public record.
“I love the members of the church and its pastor dearly. I am forever in their debt. I am deeply grieved that this issue could not be resolved,” he said.
“Unfortunately, my license is inextricably linked to my qualifications and credentials as a Christian minister. It affects my standing in the ministerial community. It also affects my ability to be hired by a local church.”
Bumgardner acknowledged his social media posts have been “provocative” but did not consider them “overtly wicked or sinful.” However, he acknowledged his shortcomings.
“I am painfully aware of my faults. I am the most sinful person I know,” he said. “I have always wrestled with pride, bridling my tongue, making unhelpful sarcastic remarks, using unwholesome speech, harboring bitterness, clinging to resentment and epitomizing hypocrisy. I also find it difficult to speak kindly of my theological, ideological and personal ‘enemies.’ My pastor was aware of this, and it was something we had repeatedly addressed during the licensing process,” he said.
However, Bumgardner said, he believes he has “grown” during his time as a pastoral intern and wants to continue to grow as a Christian and a minister.
“I have committed too many sins to name. But endorsing Joe Biden is not one of them,” he said.
Licensed to do what?
Sprey insisted the way in which Bumgardner presented his opinions on social media—not the opinions themselves—merited the discontinuance of his ministerial license. Bumgardner characterized that position as “disingenuous.”
“I have heard one thing from the pastor yet something entirely different from the members,” he said, noting some of them questioned the validity of his call to ministry on the basis of the political endorsement.
After the fact, Bumgardner wondered whether he and the pastor had any right to enter into an agreement regarding the conditional nature of his ministerial license without bringing the matter before the church.
“Faith Memorial Baptist did not license me to endorse their preferred political candidate through their preferred method, channel or avenue. They licensed me to preach the gospel,” he said.
Revoking—or failing to renew—a minister’s license over political rather than theological or moral grounds sets a dangerous precedent, he asserted.
“The simple fact of the matter is that churches should not disown ministers over politics,” he said.
Surrenders license to the ministry
Rather than demanding the church take action, however, Bumgardner stated: “I hereby voluntarily surrender my license to gospel ministry and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. I remain open to the possibility of reconciliation with the church so long as proper action is taken against the offending member.
“In the meantime, I will continue my ministry of public theology and itinerant preaching. I have already begun the process of transferring my membership to another Southern Baptist church where my political views and personal expressions will not be as problematic.”
Sprey expressed his regret over the situation but emphasized his responsibility to maintain gospel-centered unity in the church.
However, Bumgardner insisted, the church’s political leanings—not issues central to the gospel—led to the relinquishment of his ministerial license.
“Had I endorsed Donald Trump or kept my views to myself, I am sure I would still be a licensed Christian minister on the pathway to formal ordination,” he said.