Editors Note: The following accounts are given to demonstrate that Apologia Church in Phoenix has repeatedly used secret recordings of church members in an abusive fashion and engaged repeatedly in ‘hard shepherding.’ All of the information to follow has come directly from those closely associated with Apologia Church who contacted Pulpit & Pen or Bible Thumping Wingnut after seeing their elders continue in the same cult-like practices repeatedly. In some cases, names were changed to protect the innocent.
Sean Samson* looked down at his iPad, troubled by what he saw. Being a bit of a tech geek, Sean had set up his iPad to save all of his daughter Eleanor’s* text messages. Now he was reading them-even the ones that had long been deleted from Eleanor’s iPhone, for the first time. Just a few months prior, Eleanor had been a friendly 12-year-old-girl who was interested in typical 12-year-old-girl things like cartoons, games, and her after school performing arts group. Now, Eleanor was withdrawn and sad. Like her father, she had been isolated from her friends and her church family. The Samsons were members of Apologia Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Apologia was founded by its pastor Jeff Durbin. Durbin, a former drug abuser and martial arts performer, has become moderately famous in Reformed circles over the past few years through his online videos and podcasts which are disseminated by his church’s media arm, Apologia Studios. Durbin is known for his distinctive style, street evangelism, sidewalk abortion protests, and presuppositional apologetic method. Sean Samson had engaged in ministry under Durbin’s leadership, occasionally teaching mid-week Bible studies at Apologia Church. Their families had been friends. Now, there was an uncomfortable distance between them, a distance that had a lot to do with what Sean found on his iPad: numerous texts of a profane nature that had been sent from a member of Durbin’s household to Eleanor. The messages were full of profane language and were of a sinful nature. One of them contained a link to inappropriate content on the internet and encouraged Eleanor to look it up. The profane messages had a notation, “DAR,” which in teen textspeak stands for “Delete After Reading.”
Drafting On Jeff Durbin
For 12 years Tim Hurd worked in full-time ministry. He eventually disqualified himself from the pastorate due to engaging in immoral behavior. He now makes his living as a truck driver in the Northeastern United States. Though no longer a vocational minister, Tim remains passionate about evangelism and apologetics. In 2012, he started a YouTube channel called the “Bible Thumping Wingnut” to preach the gospel and encourage other Christians. Eventually, The Bible Thumping Wingnut grew into a widely-disseminated podcast network. The growth did not come without conflict. Originally, Tim was joined on his podcast by two co-hosts, Len Pettis and Colin Pearson. Tim and Len had a falling out with Colin over the controversial doctrine of Theonomy. This led to conflict between Tim and Jeff Durbin, who is an influential postmillennial theonomist. Tim began to vociferously and publicly criticize Jeff Durbin on his podcast and in social media. He had reasonable ground for disagreement but he went too far, at times outright misrepresenting Durbin. Ashamed of his bad behavior, Tim eventually called Durbin and his ministry partner Marcus Pitman to apologize to them. Tim admitted to not only misrepresenting Durbin but to acting out of envy, for Durbin’s ministry was much more popular than his own. Tim asked Jeff to forgive him for his sin. Durbin did. He also, unbeknownst to Tim, recorded the phone call. Some two years later, Tim once again took to his podcast to criticize Durbin, this time for his technique in evangelism. Durbin took offense and published the recording of Tim’s prior repentance on an anonymous YouTube channel. Tim was shocked that Durbin, a pastor, would not only record a conversation with a penitent brother, but publish it on the internet. Sean Samson wasn’t.
Sean Samson once had the unfortunate experience of having a talk with his pastor, Jeff Durbin, about the sins between their mutual households. It came to the attention of the parents that a member of Durbin’s household and Sean’s daughter had engaged in inappropriate behavior during a sleepover at Durbin’s home. Sean admitted to Durbin that his daughter was culpable. He did so simply recognizing that his daughter, like everyone else, has a sin nature. Durbin taped the conversation. He used Sean’s admission against him later when he painted Eleanor as a predator. Durbin had accused Sean’s teen daughter of being the aggressor in the situation. Durbin’s family went as far as to call the after school performing arts program in which Eleanor was involved to warn about her. Eleanor, to her devastation, was removed from the program. If not for text messages that Sean later found on his iPad, messages from a member of Durbin’s household, the narrative that his young daughter was a predator could have stood. The profane messages sent by the member of the Durbin household, initially deleted, proved that Sean’s child was not a predator in the situation. When Sean brought the existence of the text messages to the Durbin family, Durbin’s wife’s Candi was dismissive. It was “nobody’s fault” she stated. Now, with evidence incriminating their own family member available, the Durbins all but blew off the situation. There was no apology for the actions Durbin’s family had taken against Eleanor. When another former member of Apologia church informed Sean about Tim Hurd’s experience with Jeff Durbin, he reached out to tell of his own experience of being recorded by the popular pastor.
Jeff Durbin Remix
Sean would not be the only father to reach out about Durbin’s history of questionable parenting and conversation-taping. Rod Boyd* is all too familiar with Jeff Durbin’s practices. Rod is a former ER Nurse from New York. He now makes his home in the Phoenix area. Before moving west with his wife and children, he became aware of Jeff Durbin through Apologia Studio’s videos. After watching Durbin contend for the Christian faith in online videos, Rod became a self-described “Durbinite.” Upon moving to Phoenix, he began attending Apologia Church. Though his family became friends with the Durbin family, Rod never joined their church. Rod’s daughter Sondra* began having social trouble with a member of the Durbin household. These troubles were caused by what Rod described as typical teenage cattiness. Sondra had received harassing text messages from the Durbin household. Rod asked for a meeting between his family, the Durbins, and a third family with the hope of mediating the teenage conflict. The meeting was taped, without the knowledge of Rod and his wife, and reconciliation was not achieved. Without her parents’ knowledge, Sondra made her own recording of the meeting on her cell phone. After the meeting was over, Rod shared some of the issues he was having with Jeff Durbin’s family with men he had previously gone to for counsel. Apologia’s elders found out and soon after, he received a message from the elders of Apologia Church stating that Rod had engaged in gossip by speaking about these issues with others. Rod was informed that the recorded meeting would be shared with the Apologia Church body if he did not take action in accordance with repentance. Rod responded with a written apology. Nevertheless, Apologia’s elders released an edited version of the meeting to Apologia’s deacons and a number of other church members. Had Sondra, distrustful of Apologia’s elders, not made her own surreptitious recording of the meeting on her cell phone, no one would have known that an edited version of the meeting had been released. After the actions taken by its elders, Rod no longer felt comfortable attending Apologia and sought out other church fellowship. Rod was later informed by Sondra that the same member of Durbin’s household who had sent Eleanor Samsom inappropriate text messages had sent one to her as well.
Pursing Those Who Flee
Daniel Toro*, who had attended seminary, made his way to Arizona from Redeeming Cross Community Church in Minnesota open to the possibility that he might one day plant a church. After arriving in Arizona, he chose to join Apologia Church. Luke Pierson, Apologia’s discipleship pastor, perhaps unaware of Daniel’s thoughts of one day planting a church, recommended that he take part in Apologia Church’s elder training program. Daniel would become a greeter at Apologia. Eventually, Daniel sought advice from Luke Pierson on how to get a church plant off of the ground (such as filing the necessary paperwork for a new non-profit organization). When he met with Luke to talk about church planting, the meeting was taped and it included Jeff Durbin. Daniel was under the impression that the meeting would simply be about the technicalities of starting a legally recognized nonprofit. It wasn’t. The conversation turned to sheep-stealing. Apologia leadership insisted that Daniel allow no members of Apologia Church, which was not his sending church, to join his plant. Pierson and Durbin’s tack made Daniel uncomfortable, but he agreed to the stipulation during the meeting. Daniel would quickly renege on this agreement. Upon getting out of the meeting room with Jeff Durbin and Luke Pierson, having had time to think, pray, and reflect on his own, Daniel expressed to Apologia’s leadership that he would be unable in good conscience to turn away any current Apologia members who wanted to join his plant. This did not sit well with Apologia’s leadership and the two parties would soon go their separate ways. Nevertheless, Apologia still concerned itself with Daniel’s affairs. When Apologia caught wind that Rod Boyd’s family was attending Daniel’s new church, Durbin met with Daniel to speak to him “elder-to-elder.” Jeff Durbin was adamant that Daniel not allow the Boyds to attend his church plant. In a taped meeting, Daniel expressed discomfort discussing the Boyds with Durbin behind their backs. Durbin insisted on discussing that family saying:
“I will not stop talking about the Boyds because they are in sin and we’ve made that judgement as elders. Now, and this is my point, instead of listening to the elders of the church that have evidence that is incontrovertible, you’ve decided to go with a family, you’ve left together essentially, and you’re planting a church. They are coming with you. You’re planting in their neighborhood…Brother, I gotta tell you, if this doesn’t get handled with them now, where reconciliation takes place, I mean this before God, you and I will stand hand-and-hand before Jesus, and he will tell you, I’m telling the truth right here. I am fearful for you if this doesn’t get resolved.”
Rod Boyd was an attender but never a member of Apologia Church, and yet Jeff Durbin was insisting that Jesus Christ himself would condemn both Rod and Daniel on the Day of Judgment for not recognizing Apologia Church’s discipline upon a non-member. Luke Pierson reminded Daniel that Apologia members who left for Daniel’s plant were not being “faithful unto death” to Apologia, as required by their membership certificate.
Sons & Daughters of Apologia
Simon Mize* can relate to the experiences of Sean, Rod, and Daniel. Like Tim Hurd, he too believes he has been taped apologizing to Durbin. As is the case with Tim Hurd and Sean Samson, his apology was later used to argue against him. Simon is a bi-vocational pastor of a Reformed Baptist church in the Phoenix area and is quite familiar with the goings-on at Apologia Church. His two daughters, Amanda* and Samantha*, are former members. Seeking a church with “more mature” leadership, Samantha and her husband decided to leave Apologia. During a meeting to discuss their exit, Jeff Durbin began to speak negatively of Daniel Toro. Samantha, and later her sister, thought this inappropriate. After speaking with Daniel, they consulted their father about what they should do. Simon recommended they confront the elders of Apologia about the matter of speaking about Daniel (which was in their opinion gossip about Daniel). Unfortunately, Simon discussed the situation that was brought to his attention by his daughters with a friend. Simon soon realized that he had himself engaged in gossip. Though Durbin was not aware of this offense, Simon took it upon himself to call Durbin and apologize. A few minutes into the call, Simon thought he heard Durbin fumbling around on the other end of the line. Then, Durbin asked questions of Simon that led him to repeat some statements he had already made earlier in the call. Simon’s apology to Durbin was later used as evidence that Simon lacked sound judgment when his daughters confronted Durbin about his treatment of Daniel. The daughters got nowhere with Durbin upon confronting him. As it stands, Apologia Church’s elders have warned their church members to avoid further contact with Daniel Toro until he repents of what they perceive as his sinful and divisive behavior, going as far as to issue an official document detailing Daniel’s offenses. Simon Mize is left aghast at the treatment he received from Jeff Durbin.
As Apologia elders, including James White, took to their webcast after it was revealed that Jeff Durbin had posted secretly recorded audio of Tim Hurd in order to defend him over it, little did we know at the time that such a practice of making secret recordings and stockpiling them for later use was an ordinary practice of Apologia church. It was not the first time the elders had to defend Durbin’s secret recording and their retaliatory use.
A Boatload of Trouble
On the surface, Apologia Church is a thriving and exciting body. Its founding elder is a minor internet celebrity and a nationwide spokesperson, through the End Abortion Now movement, against the brutal practice of infanticide. Reformed Christianity’s popular Internet apologist, James White, recently left Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church to become a member and later elder of Apologia Church. Durbin and White are headlining an upcoming Sovereign Experiences cruise of the Holy Land. On the dry land of the Phoenix desert, things aren’t so glamorous for a number of families who have had the misfortune of crossing Jeff Durbin. Tucked away with the sleekly produced public videos at Apologia Studios are an untold number of other recordings, some made secretly, of penitent church members and outsiders alike. Only God and Jeff Durbin know just how many members or others have been taped by Apologia Church leadership and just what confessions may be being held over the heads of members and their families.
*This name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.
**I reached out to Jeff Durbin in an effort to get his perspective on the stories being reported above, however, I was not granted a one-on-one interview with him. The story above has been assembled according to testimonies recounted to me by various sources. The truth of the story depends on the honesty of those sources. In speaking to these various sources and assessing their testimony and evidence, I do not suspect that they are reporting falsehoods but rather their actual experiences with Jeff Durbin and Apologia Church.
***Daniel Toro declined to be interviewed by Pulpit & Pen for this article.
****Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
[Contributed by: Seth Dunn]
[Edited by: Jordan Hall]