October 19, 2023

Alan Benson's Hidden History: Censorship by Omission

Dr. Alan Benson is the Acting CEO for Bob Jones University (BJU). He assumed this role shortly after Steve Pettit’s departure.1 Applications for BJU president are now being accepted and Benson was recently quoted saying he will apply for the vacant position of BJU president.2

In several places at the BJU website Benson’s ministerial history is referenced. For example at BJU's University Leadership3 page we find Benson's ministry experience expressed as, 
Alan served as a youth pastor and senior pastor in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois for 25 years. He came to BJU from Bethel Baptist Church in Schaumburg, Illinois.…
From BJU Today, Diversity Equips Benson for Role with Seminary,4
He first served as youth pastor at a church in Wilmington, North Carolina. He then served as pastor in Winter Garden, Florida; back in Wilmington; and finally, in Schaumburg, Illinois.” 
At BJU News (April 16, 2021) under Dr. Alan Benson Named Executive VP 5
For over two decades, Benson served as a youth pastor and senior pastor in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois.”
In each of the examples above (images archived) we read of ministries in three states, but are those the only states he ministered in? The BJU Today article says, “first served…in Wilmington, NC. He then served…in Winter Garden, Florida.”

There is no mention of another ministry experience before and/or between Wilmington and Winter Garden, but there is a history there. What part of Alan Benson’s ministry experience is censored?

What is the Hidden History?
Prior to taking a position at Calvary Baptist Church in Winter Garden, Florida Dr. Benson spent several years of ministry in Romeo, Michigan.

Late into the 1990’s Alan Benson was called to be senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Romeo, Michigan. Soon after a controversy erupted allegedly because Benson was trying to steer the church in a more conservative direction, and (of all things) the choice of new doors for the church. The controversy became ugly and divisive with Benson’s leadership receiving a good deal of resistance.

Benson didn’t know if he had even 50% support among the membership. He, therefore, chose to leave First Baptist voluntarily. This may have been a wise decision because he had become the focal point of controversy. Instead of removing himself to allow the membership to resolve their differences Benson joined a group that was cobbled together to support him. This group (of about 30), with Benson and one deacon as their leaders, split from First Baptist to start another church in the same community.

That splinter group (in 2000) began holding services in the home of the deacon who had left with the group. Later the splinter group rented a space in downtown Romeo above a store front. Overtime the store front may have grown somewhat, but Benson had become disillusioned. Benson allegedly told his deacon he was unhappy with “talk” about him in the community. Soon after he abruptly abandoned the splinter church for an opportunity in Winter Garden, Florida.

Following Benson’s departure from the store front church another man, Dale Hibshman, recommended by Benson, became the pastor. 
Hibshman was an aggressive advocate for Calvinistic theology, which didn't go over well, and other troubling issues came to light, which split that church. Soon after the church ceased to exist in any form.

Woodside, Romeo 2022
The original First Baptist Church is still there, but was sold to the non-denominational Woodside church6 that buys up churches and turns them into satellites (image at right).
 Remnants of Benson’s failed ministry eventually grafted into another Baptist church where they worship together in harmony.

Why is the Michigan episode censored from Benson’s ministerial biography? It’s inconceivable BJU had no knowledge of Benson's history in Michigan, and his role in the split of First Baptist Church. Gaps in an individual's work/ministry history invites questions that ought to be explored, especially in the case of high profile ministry positions. With the revelation of Alan Benson’s ministry in Michigan and censorship of it questions arise:
  • Will Dr. Benson acknowledge his years in Michigan, and role in the split of First Baptist Church?
  • Will BJU update Benson’s ministerial biography to include his role at the churches in Romeo, MI?
  • Does his role in splitting the church and burying this episode raise questions of integrity and fitness for any leadership position?
  • Should Benson voluntarily withdraw his stated intent to apply for BJU’s presidency?
  • What accountability does Alan Benson and BJU bear for burying the Michigan episode of ministerial experience? 
These are questions for Alan Benson, the Bob Jones University Executive Cabinet and Board of Trustees to address and answer.

*For a discussion about the description of Benson’s ministry at Bethel Baptist Church see the Addendum below.

1) Steve Pettit's Resignation from BJU Stands

2) The Collegian
When asked if he [Benson] was considering applying for the role of president, he chuckled and said, 'who actually is a candidate is going to be the process of the search. That’s the Board’s work, and I’m not in any way a part of that. Would I be willing? At this point I could say, yeah, when the time comes, prayerfully at this point, I will apply.”
3) University Leadership

4) Diversity Equips Benson for Role with Seminary

5) Dr. Alan Benson Named Executive VP

6) Woodside Bible Church

Looking back to the University Leadership page Benson’s biography included this evaluation of the condition he left Bethel Baptist Church in,
He came to BJU from Bethel Baptist Church in Schaumburg, Illinois, where he served for five years as senior pastor of the 600-member church and president of a Christian day school of nearly 1,000 students.”
The statement may give the impression that Benson built Bethel’s membership and school enrollment to those levels. Dr. Frank Bumpus was called to Bethel BC in 1960. The land where Bethel sits today was purchased in 1962. Dr. Bumpus primarily built that ministry to those numbers noted in Benson’s biography.

Why highlight only Bethel’s condition? Shouldn't the condition of each ministry Benson left be detailed? We know in Benson's wake two Michigan churches were left in disarray. What about North Carolina, Florida and even at Bethel, did things not go well at any of these ministries?